LITTLE ROCK – It has been a busy week at the Arkansas Capitol. We are working very hard on issues concerning independent pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) and hope to have a bill authorizing the regulation of PBMs by the Arkansas Insurance Department very soon. The PBM practice of trying to undercut independent pharmacies by sometimes reimbursing them less than the actual cost of medications they dispense through prescriptions has caused tremendous turmoil around our state and the nation. Having the insurance department regulate this situation should bring stability and prevent these companies from taking advantage of local independent pharmacies that Arkansans depend on around our state.
The World Trade Center Arkansas has compiled the first listing of companies in Arkansas that export products to foreign markets. It is 110 pages long.
The Trade Center is a partnership of public agencies under the license of the University of Arkansas that was formed in 2007. The members of its board of advisors are business and civic leaders, including six state senators and one former state senator. Its goal is to strengthen the ties between the Arkansas business community and the international business community.
Later this year the center will lead Arkansas delegations on trade missions to the Netherlands, the Caribbean and China. At a conference in Jonesboro earlier this month, trade center representatives spoke on the importance of Canada and Mexico as markets for Arkansas rice.
At the same conference, the governor and trade officials emphasized the importance of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for Arkansas companies that export their products.
The center partners with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, which helps companies increase their exports.
In the past five years Arkansas firms exported more than $33 billion worth of products. We rank 35th in the United States in the total value of our export products. In rankings of agricultural products we rank 16th.
Arkansas is first in exports of rice, fourth in broilers, sixth in cotton and tenth in soybeans. It would be fair to say that Arkansas is leading the United States in efforts to normalize trade with Cuba, which is seen as an especially good market for rice and poultry.
The largest category of products sold overseas were aerospace products, followed by rice, grains and oilseeds. Chemicals and poultry were the third and fourth greatest export sectors in the Arkansas economy. Exports support almost 350,000 Arkansas jobs.
After Canada and Mexico, the countries that buy the most Arkansas exports are Japan, France and Singapore. In all, Arkansas companies ship products to 181 countries. About 2,345 Arkansas companies either ship goods or sell services overseas, and almost 80 percent of them are small to medium in size.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation opened bids on 32 projects. The apparent low bids made by contractors added up to about $65 million.
The largest single project, which was bid at $28.9 million, was to widen U.S. Highway 167 for 7.2 miles, from two lanes to four lanes, in Calhoun County.
Under the governor’s proposed balanced budget for next year, which the legislature is considering during the current fiscal session, about $16 million of the projected surplus would go to the Transportation Department.
In order to qualify for about $200 million in matching federal highway funds, the state must come up with about $50 million by the end of summer.
For the five year period from 2016 through 2020, the Transportation Department budget will average about $990 million a year. That comprises $455 million in state generated revenue, which comes from motor fuels taxes and fees on heavy trucks, and $535 million in federal funds.
As recently as 1993, state funds made up 64 percent of the department’s revenue, and in 2016 state funds represented 46 percent of the Transportation Department’s revenue.
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Senator Rapert is chairman of the Arkansas Senate Insurance & Commerce Committee, co-chair of the ALC Higher Education Committee, president of the National Council of Insurance Legislators and represents the city of Conway, Faulkner County and a portion of Perry County in Senate District 35.