- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An $87 million incentive package aimed at luring a military vehicle assembly plant to south Arkansas easily won final approval Thursday, as lawmakers wrapped up a three-day special legislative session focused on the defense contract.

The state Senate approved the measure 30-2, while the House approved an identical bill on a 90-0 vote. The plan calls for issuing bonds if Lockheed Martin wins a defense contract to assemble a new tactical vehicle at its Camden facility that will replace the Humvee.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he planned to sign the incentive package Friday.

“This is an important next step in our attempt to help Lockheed-Martin secure a federal Defense contract and create hundreds of new jobs in south Arkansas,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “The state of Arkansas is doing its part by overwhelmingly passing the Amendment 82 legislation. We are on board with bipartisan support.”

State officials have said the project would create nearly 600 new jobs and help retain more than 500 existing ones at the Maryland-based company’s Camden site. Lockheed is competing with two companies - Indiana-based AM General and Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Defense - for the contract. The bonds won’t be issued unless Lockheed wins the contract, which is expected to be awarded late this summer.

If Arkansas wins the bid, it’d be the second time the state issues bonds under a 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment aimed at helping land major economic deals. Lawmakers two years ago approved $125 million in bonds for a steel mill under construction in east Arkansas.

Arkansas officials say they expect the state to pay off the bonds in 15 to 20 years. The state would spend between $109 million and $122 million for the bond repayment and interest, depending on how the bonds are structured.

Lawmakers also approved other top items on the session agenda, including Hutchinson’s proposal to merge several state agencies. The mergers, which include transferring the Department of Rural Services to the state Economic Development Commission, were approved by the Senate on a 32-0 vote and by the House on an 85-0 vote.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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