LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – What should the government’s role be in job creation and economic development?
Those questions are at the center of the debate over Issue 3 on the Arkansas ballot. The proposal is being called a job creator, but some officials are concerned it could have unintended consequences.
“Elections are often confusing and this year is no different,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson can be heard saying in an advertisement for the proposal.
“Vote yes for jobs, for yes for issue 3,” he continues.
While there are multiple elements to the ballot issue, Kristin Higgins, with the non-partisan Arkansas Voter Guide through the University of Arkansas’ Division of Agriculture, says it boils down to bonds.
Currently, the state is capped at issuing five-percent of the general revenue in obligation bonds for economic development projects such as new businesses.
“Let’s say we have a large call center or a large steel mill they want in Arkansas, “she says, “the state can issue some debt to assist in the cost of their building here, but that is limited to 5%.”
If Issue 3 passes, it would remove the limit completely.
Some, like Berryville Mayor Tim McKinney, are concerned it would give state officials a blank check.
“The ballot title doesn’t talk about defaults and bankruptcies and more debt that you can pay off,” McKinney says. “When one of these projects goes bankrupt and you’re sitting there holding the note and the business is gone.”
McKinney is also worried about the potential impact of another part of the proposal that would extend the same option to certain cities.
“It’s going to make cities start competing against each other,” he says, “and you’re going to get into bidding wars.”
Other groups like the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District stand with Governor Hutchinson.
Supporters say the current limit puts Arkansas at a disadvantage against states that have a higher cap or not cap at all.
“I believe it gives Arkansas some tools that surrounding states have had for quite some time,” says Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse, “to attract projects, attract industry, attract jobs.”