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