Bottom line on road funding: Be prepared to pay
Well, it appears the politicians in Little Rock and the bureaucratic money crunchers have come up with what they say the taxpaying Arkansans are going to have to cough up if they want their roads, highways and bridges tended too.
For months now these ingenious public servants have completed what they call a very “special report” they say just absolutely confirms Arkansas Department of Transportation’s assertions that its construction and maintenance program for roads and bridges requires additional revenues of more than $400 million annually.
Now, let’s get something straight right on the front end of our comments by saying, YES, we all want our roads well maintained and brought up to standard, and fully understand that additional revenue must be found or raised to deal with inflation and expanded highway projects.
Where there should be concern among the taxpaying citizens of this state is where will this money come from?
This major road funding issue dates way back under the former administration of Gov. Mike Beebe when he created the Blue Ribbon Committee on Highway Finance. In its so-called “special” report, issue December 2010, this committee basically came up with roughly 16 various needs, financial requirements and ways to raise $200 million over 10 years, half of what this new report claims is needed now.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson inherited the problem as did lawmakers having to deal with the bureaucrats within the state’s Department of Transportation.
During the last regular legislative session numerous recommendations were made, including the politically sensitive idea of raising fuel taxes at the pump, a suggestion that go nowhere in the form of legislative action.
Meanwhile, highway officials kept complaining so Hutchinson formed his own highway study committee he called the Governor’s Working Group on Highway Funding.
When lawmakers failed to take action so seems the bureaucrats within the Department of Transportation decided to come up with a plan to consider putting together a referendum of their own so voters can decide during next year’s elections.
Meanwhile, here comes this special report by the Arkansas Legislative Audit which sets the highway department needs at $478 million, which is even higher than the $400 million the agency has used as a goal for additional annual long-term funding.
The $400 million amount came from the governor’s study group.
Let’s be totally honest and say there is a bit of skepticism about the department’s budgetary problems, something that has existed way back when Gov. Beebe was struggling with the problem.
There is no doubt that there have been many people involved in this issue who have seriously questioned all these numbers being tossed around.
All we’re told was the methodology used to prepare the report was “developed uniquely to address the state objectives” and therefore was “more limited in scope” than a formal audit, which is performed in accordance with more stringent government auditing standards.
Now then, what the heck are we, as taxpaying citizens, expected to make of all the mumbo-jumbo.
Here’s how all this is going to go down. These bureaucrats and politicians will gather their forces and supporters, particularly key stakeholders, including the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Municipal League and the Association of Arkansas Counties, to help convince us to go along with their plans to raise all this money.
Be prepared to vote on higher fuel taxes as one of the main sources of revenue.