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Supreme Court rules on health care

In a historic decision anticipated for months and impacting hundreds of millions of Americans, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday, June 28, that the individual mandate – the cornerstone of the federal health care law – is allowed as a tax for people not having insurance.

“The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may be reasonably characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness,” the court said in its 5-4 ruling written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

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May metropolitan area jobless numbers fell in all eight regions of the state in a year-over-year comparison, but they rose in all eight areas on a month-to-month basis.

Northwest Arkansas had the lowest metro jobless rate in May at 5.7 percent, down from May 2011 when unemployment hit 6.1 percent. In April, the region had a jobless rate of 5.3 percent. Pine Bluff’s rate of 9.2 percent was the highest in the state in May, up from 8.7 percent in April, but lower than 10 percent one year ago.

Arkansas’ jobless rate was 7.3 percent in May, up from 7.2 percent during April and below the 8.1 percent rate in May 2011.

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Nucor Corp. will grow its Blytheville steel mill with a $115 million production expansion. The project was announced June 26 by Nucor-Yamato Steel Co., a joint venture between Nucor and Yamato Kogyo Co. Ltd. The major expansion will add production of hot rolled sheet piling to Nucor’s Blytheville steel mill.

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Former state Rep. and Prairie County Judge Butch Calhoun will lead the Arkansas Agriculture Department, whose current leader, Richard Bell, is retiring after seven years on the job. Calhoun, who has been serving as director of the Arkansas Department of Rural Services, was selected by the Arkansas Agriculture Board at a meeting on June 27. Gov. Mike Beebe, who has been on an agricultural trade mission to France, will have to confirm the appointment, which his spokesman said he will do.

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The Little Rock Peabody Hotel is for sale and apparently has a buyer. Peabody owner Marty Belz was in town June 27 to meet with city of Little Rock officials, but was silent on the subject. The city of Little Rock holds a lease on the land that the hotel sits on. By Thursday, details were released. Fairwood Capital, LLC, a real estate investment firm focused on hospitality assets, announced it would take over the property and rebrand it with a national hotel franchise.

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Arkansas’ severance tax revenue has steadily increased each year since the Legislature raised the levy on natural gas production in 2009, but 2012 is off to a slow start.

Year-over-year, state tax collections from severance tax revenue rose 8.1 percent to $58.9 million in 2011 from $54.5 million in 2010. The first year that the state levied a 5 percent tax on shale production in 2009, severance tax revenue jumped from only $1.3 million in 2008 to $27.4 million a year later. For the first five months of 2012, severance tax collections totaled $18.734 million, down 19 percent compared to the $23.139 million during the same period in 2011.

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Arvest Bank announced that for the 10th consecutive year its mortgage division topped $1 billion in loans, boosted in large part by home refinancing. The Bentonville-based privately held bank said that reaching the billion-dollar milestone before the end of June was a record.

“A number of factors have helped us reach $1 billion in mortgage loans this early in the year,” said Steven Plaisance, president and chief operating officer of Arvest Mortgage Co. “In addition, low mortgage rates continue to encourage homeowners to refinance and a new, improved version of the government’s Home Affordable Refinance Program has recently allowed more homeowners to do so.”

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Little Rock-based financial institution One Bank & Trust is under new regulatory supervision from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. On May 23, 2012, federal banking regulators replaced a previous consent agreement with a “Stipulation and Consent” order that outlines tough guidelines for the bank to follow.

One Bank, or OneBanc as it is branded, accepted the OCC consent order, which calls for the bank to maintain more stringent capital ratios and a host of compliance provisions.

Roby Brock, a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, writes a colum for the Arkansas News Bureau. His weekly television program airs at 10 p.m. Sundays in Central Arkansas. His e-mail address is roby@talkbusiness.net; his website address is www.talkbusiness.net.

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