Arkansas vote on extending highway bonds approaches

| 12/5/2005

Arkansas voters will head to the polls Dec. 13 to decide whether to extend bonds for highway projects throughout the state.

Question No. 1 on the statewide ballot would extend the interstate highway bond program approved by voters in 1999. The $575 million bond issue is being repaid with federal highway repair funds and a 4-cent-per-gallon diesel tax increase. Under that plan, reconstruction on more than 380 of the state’s 655 miles of interstates is scheduled for completion next year.

“By next year, 73 percent of the state’s interstate system will be in good or very good condition with only 14 percent rated poor or mediocre,” Gov. Mike Huckabee said during a recent news conference at the capitol.

The effort would not affect current taxes, but would give the Arkansas Highway Commission the standing authority to issue additional bonds in the future without a public vote.

Supporters, including the governor, say it is needed to keep interstate highways in good shape and that federal and state highway funds – at least $72 million annually – isn’t enough to keep up with repairs without going into debt.

Groups like the Arkansas Trucking Association, however, are against the plan.

The motor carriers and related businesses in the state formed a political committee, dubbed Citizens Against No.1, to oppose the bond measure.

They say it would take away the rights of voters to approve each attempt to sell more bonds. Voters, though, could petition against the measure should it pass or the Legislature could refer a proposal overturning it to voters.

If voters approve the bond extension, Huckabee said he would call a special legislative session in late December or January to dedicate dollars to roads. The Legislature doesn’t meet for a regular session again until 2007.