Arkansas legislative leaders said last week that they support a measure authorizing $125 million of state general obligation bonds to subsidize a steel mill project.

Senate Bill 820, introduced by Sen. David Burnett, D-Osceola, and Rep. Monte Hodges D-Blytheville, would authorize the sale of the bonds once Big River Steel LLC had invested $500 million into the project and hired 300 people for operations and management.

The $1.1 billion steel mill in northeast Arkansas is a significant economic development, said Sen. Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, president pro tem of the Senate.

“It is a major investment in Arkansas,” he said at a news conference last week.

“It is a lot of jobs for an area of the state that needs them,” he said. “More fundamentally for me, the members from that part of the state want it.”

House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, has asked to be added as a co-sponsor on a bill authorizing the bonds being request by Gov. Mike Beebe.

“We know what the result will be from doing nothing,” Carter said. “I think we ought approve the bonds and help that part of the state that’s been struggling for so long.”

Obtaining the votes needed in the House needed to pass to pass the appropriations bill that includes debt service on the steel mill bonds may be difficult, said Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono. Republican representatives from northwest Arkansas will oppose Senate Bill 430 in the House, said Wilkins, who supports the bond plan.

“I have always thought we all worked for the good of Arkansas,” he said. “We shall see.”

The measure, which appropriates $20 million to service the bonds, was approved unanimously by the Senate in late February. Passage of the measure will require 75 votes in the 100-member House.

The bonds would be the first authorized under a state constitutional amendment that allows the state to issue tax-free debt for large economic development projects. Amendment 82, which was approved by voters in 2010, caps state-issued GO bonds for a project at 5% of state general fund revenues in the most recent fiscal year.

The large steel mill will be built near Osceola in Mississippi County, some 120 miles northeast of Little Rock and 30 miles north of Memphis, Tenn.

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