Unemployment in our state is now at a record low. Since we began tracking employment in 1976, we have never seen the unemployment rate below 4.1%. That is until last month.
The unemployment rate for April in Arkansas was 3.9% while the national rate was 5%. This means 1,309,268 are in the workforce. That is 5,000 more than the month before.
The Department of Workforce Services says jobs were added in several fields including transportation, hospitality, and construction.
When Arkansans are working their families and our state see the benefit. It increases an individual’s purchasing power which then leads to the creation of more jobs.
The news comes while we are working to improve our state’s infrastructure and our efficiency in this special session. We are expected to adjourn this session on Monday.
The House approved a bill to provide a match to federal highway funds for the next 5 years which will result in $1 billion to improve our roads. The legislation accomplishes the first year’s match by transferring $40 million from the Governor’s Rainy Day Fund, using $1.5 million from investment returns from the state treasurer, diverting $4 million from the diesel tax currently being directed to general revenue, and devoting the entire ½ cent sales tax which voters approved in 2012 to highways. Currently 3% of that tax goes to central services which funds our constitutional offices.
For the following years, the state will direct 25% of all surplus funds to highways. We will continue to direct investment earnings from the state treasury to the highway department. The bill also includes provisions to provide us with more information on projects funded by the Highway Commission.
The House also advanced legislation implementing an expiration date for task forces that either rarely meet or have not met in some time. The efficiency bill also transfers the Arkansas History Commission from Parks and Tourism to the Department of Arkansas Heritage. In addition, this bill streamlines the paperwork process for Children and Family Services workers who oversee foster care cases.
Other legislation presented this session include eliminating a state trust fund for workman’s compensation claims while lowering the taxes for policies paid by businesses.
Currently, this fund assumes the cost of worker’s compensation claims after businesses pay the first $204,000. It is predicted this fund could go bankrupt in 6 to 8 years. This bill would require businesses or their insurance policies to assume all of the claims after June 2019 while lowering their premium tax.
And we approved a measure to put a pause on schools or districts from being declared in academic distress for the 2016-2017 school year. This allows schools time to adjust while a new accountability system is being implemented.
By the end of the first week, the House voted in favor of 12 bills. You can review all of the bills and watch testimony in committees and on the House floor at www.arkansashouse.org