Our View

Our View

Back to the drawing board for highway funding ballot measure

Well, well, well, so seems that after months of planning to lead the charge to initiate a ballot measure calling for increased road taxes the Arkansas Highway commissioners now have second thoughts and have decided to throw this political “hot potato” back in the laps of the politicians.

When lawmakers failed to deal with pleas from the Arkansas Department of Transportation Director Scott Bennett calling for at least $400 million more a year in road taxes this commission decided last June it would do what lawmakers wouldn’t and pursue an initiated act for the 2018 general election ballot asking voters for more money for road construction.

It now appears these commissioners have gotten cold feet and want no part of what they now believe should be left up to lawmakers to deal with. What we’re told is these commissioners are now of the opinion that the politicians need to cough up the additional funds when they meet in regular session next year.

Oh, and by the way, these “good ole’ boys” want no part of being associated with a group called Driving Arkansas Forward, which is trying to place a constitutional amendment on the 2018 general election ballot to allow casino gambling with a share of the revenue going to road construction.

That, folks, is nothing but a scam and furthermore any funds from these gambling operations falls far short of what the highway department says it needs in additional revenue.

Let’s backtrack a bit and remind folks that since June, the commission’s five members, who are appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, have been following his suggestion that they pursue a ballot initiative to raise additional money for road construction after successive legislative efforts have failed in recent years, most recently in 2017.

You know why these efforts have failed? Simple, this call for raising taxes in various money-grabbing ways has been a controversial hot potato that goes back to former Gov. Mike Beebe and his so-called Blue Ribbon Committee on Highway Finance, and politicians want no part of being associated with HIGHER TAXES!!!

To better understand this situation, state and federal fuel taxes provide the majority of the highway department’s revenue, but because we’re being forced to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles fuel tax revenues have remained relatively flat.

Highway Department bureaucrats claim they need at least $400 million more a year but a legislative audit report prepared last year claims the highway department had $478 million in additional annual needs.

Now, we all understand the only way this golden pot of money at the end of the rainbow will be found is when WE, the taxpayers, get slammed with higher fuel taxes. Oh, there have been other suggestions of ways to come up with more tax dollars such as transferring sales tax revenue on new and used vehicles, tires, batteries and auto parts and services from the General Fund to a New Highway Trust Fund; index motor fuel excise taxes; impose a temporary one-half cent General Sales Tax to fund a fire-year construction program; levy a new excise tax on the whole sale price of motor fuels along with other ideas.

It is almost laughable to now see that this commission has let Gov. Hutchinson down and that lawmakers are getting back a political liability they want no part of. It will certainly be interesting to see how our elected politicians handle this going forward.