State commits $17 million for Ebbing military mission; Governor outlines merit bonuses, new school vaccine policy

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,506 views 

Governor Asa Hutchinson made news on three fronts Tuesday (June 8) in his weekly press briefing. Hutchinson outlined the state’s commitment to a new military mission in Fort Smith, performance bonuses for state workers, and a loosening of student quarantines for those fully vaccinated.

The governor said Arkansas will put up $17 million as part of its commitment to the new F-35 and F-16 military mission at Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith. The money will be used to extend the runway at the base by 1,300 additional feet. The city of Fort Smith has committed $5 million to the runway extension.

The state’s portion of the $22 million commitment will come from either legislative approval to use rainy day or restrictive reserve funds or the governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund, Hutchinson said.

The governor said his efforts to capitalize on military assets in the state have paid dividends. In his first term, he formed a military advisory committee, that is now permanent, to promote job growth in key regions of the state. It was instrumental in helping land the new mission in Fort Smith.

“We created our military advisory committee after I first got elected governor,” he said. “We had never concentrated and made military installations part of economic development. Our advisory committee changed that.”

The governor disclosed on Tuesday the new training mission is expected to bring around 825 new personnel to the region, primarily from Singapore.

Hutchinson also revealed the state would be handing out merit or performance bonuses for state workers up to 3%. He said the extra income was justified for state employees who continued to perform their jobs at a high level during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The one-time bonuses would come from roughly $11.2 million in state revenue and $28 million from federal money.

“It’s the largest performance bonus during my term as governor,” Hutchinson said.

Additionally, the governor outlined a new policy for K-12 and higher education students related to COVID-19 vaccinations. Hutchinson said if a student has been fully vaccinated from COVID-19, they would not be required to quarantine if exposed to someone with the disease. He said this would be beneficial to students and working parents.

“What this means for the students is it will minimize education loss,” he said. “It will also minimize disruption to the workforce.”

Hutchinson expressed some worry over the state’s current status with COVID-19 and Arkansas’ vaccination efforts. He noted that active COVID cases had risen by 62 in the last 24 hours along with 29 new hospitalizations and four new patients on ventilators.

His biggest concern on the vaccine front centered on people between the ages of 25-48. While citizens over the age of 65 have seen cases fall dramatically over the last three months, those between the ages 25 and 48 have seen an increase from March to May 2021. A major factor in the rise of this group is the lack of receiving a vaccine.

“We’ve got to get these working people vaccinated,” Hutchinson said.