Arkansas governor pulls highway bill

| 4/5/2005

A proposed $1.3 billion bill to improve Arkansas highways has been pulled from consideration over funding concerns raised by lawmakers, Gov. Mike Huckabee said March 29.

However, the governor called for the bill to be put on the back burner until a special session is held within a year from now.

In an effort to wean the state off exclusively relying on fuel taxes to fund state highways, the Arkansas Highway Commission this year sought to use state general revenues for road building. House lawmakers were expected to debate the plan March 28 but instead postponed the discussion.

The commission plan – endorsed by Huckabee – would spend nearly $200 million annually on highways with money from general revenues. About $150 million would go to finance an annual bond issue. Cities and counties each could claim 15 percent of the balance, or about $22 million apiece.

Sponsored by Rep. Johnnie Bolin, D-Crossett, the highway bill recently was endorsed by the House Public Transportation Committee on a voice vote.

The panel’s endorsement, however, followed several lawmakers in the House and Senate questioning whether general revenue should be used for highways. Huckabee told local media during a news briefing last week that legislators concerns – coupled with the uncertainty about how much the state will get in the federal highway bill now before Congress – helped along his decision.

Under the bill – HB2887 – some of the state sales tax revenue generated from the sale or purchase of new vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers would be used to raise the money that highway officials say they need to pay for the proposed bond issue.

That money now goes for general operating expenses with most earmarked for education.

A provision in the bill calls for every city with a population of 5,000 or more to eventually have four-lane access to an interstate. That would include working on about 8,400 miles of highway.

If ultimately approved by lawmakers, voters still would need to sign off on the issuance of bonds.