Money for road work sought in Arkansas

| 1/12/2007

Road groups in Arkansas are expected to press state lawmakers in the session that opened Monday, Jan. 8, to use general revenues and a sizeable chunk of an estimated $843 million budget surplus to pay for road work.

Dan Flowers, director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, recently told a road group the state has about $19 billion in highway needs during the next decade. He said the state has $4 billion in anticipated revenue, the Arkansas News Bureau reported.

Flowers, along with Highway Commission Chairman Jonathan Barnett, said the per-gallon tax on diesel, gas and other fuels is flat. They said there isn't enough money being generated through the tax to meet the department's maintenance needs.

To combat the problem, Barnett has signed off on a measure that asks state lawmakers to dedicate sales tax paid on road user-related items to state highways, county roads and city streets, the News Bureau reported.

Barnett said that lawmakers should approve legislation similar to an effort that failed during the previous session.

Sponsored by then-Rep. Johnnie Bolin, D-Crossett, now executive director for the Arkansas Good Roads Transportation Council, the bill called for diverting some of the sales tax revenue from the sale or purchase of new vehicles, trailers and semi trailers, and other transportation related items to pay for a $1 billion highway construction bond issue.

The sales tax diversion effort failed in 2005 after lawmakers balked at using general revenue to pay for roads.

What can be accomplished this year to pay for roads is unclear. Gov.-elect Mike Beebe, a Democrat, has said a new highway program is not a major concern for him this year, the News Bureau reported.