Gov. Mike Beebe told state lawmakers that federal health officials have given a green light to Arkansas’ request for flexibility with its Medicaid program and health insurance exchanges – a move that could provide billions of dollars to the poor and uninsured as well as boost the state’s health care economy.

In short, the big takeaway from Beebe’s meeting with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius a week ago was that Arkansas does have permission to explore using Medicaid expansion funds in its forthcoming health insurance exchanges.

The exchanges that the Affordable Care Act created would allow for the uninsured to shop for subsidized health care plans in an open market system with private insurance carriers. Citizens eligible under Medicaid expansion could be steered into the health insurance exchange, under the fed’s new permission. Medicaid expansion and the health insurance exchanges will begin in 2014.

Speaker Carter calls for $150 million in tax cuts

House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, sprinted through three House committees on Tuesday morning telling members that it was the "start of the third quarter." He urged House members of the Judiciary, Revenue and Tax, and Public Health Committees to take action on issues that would be "in the best interest of the state."

Carter told Revenue and Tax Committee members that he thought a $150 million tax cut package, anchored in a capital gains tax cut, was doable. He noted that it might start at $50 million and add $25 million in cuts per year in future years. Carter said the tax cuts were tied to Medicaid and health care reform in his eyes because "the folks that are going to be paying for this are the job creators in this state and this country."

Two groups hired to study steel mill superproject

Arkansas legislative leaders released a memo Tuesday disclosing that they have hired two economist groups to review the $1.1 billion steel mill superproject announced last month.

Under provisions of Amendment 82, the state’s superproject law, legislators must independently analyze provisions of the deal. Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) will review the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s proposal. REMI will be paid $29,000 and submit its report by March 11. Global Insight will be paid $48,750 for its report, which is expected to be delivered to lawmakers by March 12.

Acxiom layoff less than 50 in Arkansas

A spokesperson for Acxiom Corp. confirmed that the database giant has laid off workers as it corrects for market conditions; however, the number represents less than three percent of the company’s Arkansas work force.

Acxiom Corporate Communications specialist Ines Gutzmer said that "less than 50 associates" were laid off and "less than 100 companywide." She declined to say in which areas of operations the downsizing occurred. Acxiom employs more than 2,000 in Arkansas. According to its annual report, the database and digital marketer has roughly 6,200 employees worldwide.

Walmart executive exits company

An internal memo from Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon circulated throughout the company Wednesday (Feb. 27) announcing that Tom Mars, executive vice president and chief administrative officer, will exit the company March 13. There was no reason mentioned in the memo for Mars’ departure. Mars has been with Walmart for 11 years and is a former head of the Arkansas State Police.

Dillard’s finishes quarter strong, but full-year profits decline.

Dillard’s, Inc. reported fourth quarter revenue of $2.15 billion and net income of $161.4 million. That was an improvement from the previous year’s fourth quarter when the company posted profits of $141.5 million on revenue of $2.01 billion.

The company said it gained an extra week of sales due to calendar timing in its fourth quarter this year. Same-store sales rose 3%, according to company officials and gross margin improvement gained 40 basis points during the quarter. For the full year, Dillard’s profits hit $336 million, down from $463.9 million in the previous year. Revenue for Dillard’s for its full fiscal year were $6.75 billion, an improvement from $6.41 billion one year earlier.

Deltic Timber net income hits $2.4 million

Deltic Timber Corp. reported fourth quarter net income of $2.4 million compared to a year ago when the El Dorado-based firm posted a $200,000 loss. Improvement in its mill operations pushed the turnaround. For the full year, Deltic Timber net income was $9.2 million compared to $2.7 million for the 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2011. Two weeks ago, Deltic Timber announced it would acquire the remaining 50 percent stake of Del-Tin Fiber currently owned by TIN, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of International Paper Co.