Arkansas governor is ho hum, but highway program worries others

| 2/7/2007

Gov. Mike Beebe has said a new highway program is not a major concern for him this year, the News Bureau reported. Meanwhile, other officials in Arkansas pursuing more money for transportation are preparing to revisit an effort to use bonds to foot the bill for roadwork.

State Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, said he was part of a group preparing legislation similar to a failed 2005 proposal to renew a $575 million highway bond program voters initially approved in a 1999 referendum. Glover and his group want to take the issue before voters in time for the 2008 election, the Northwest Arkansas Times reported.

The proposal would include a provision to allow voters from time to time to cancel the program if they decide they don't like the path it is taking.

Glover released aspects of the proposal after Dan Flowers, director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, gave a grim forecast for road funding in the state.

Flowers recently indicated 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.

The forecast has led highway officials and lawmakers to consider such measures as dedicating sales tax paid on road-user related items to state highways, county roads and city streets.

The proposed new bond program would allow the state to borrow money against the federal transportation dollars that come each year to pay for construction. The sale is based on the assumption that federal funding in future years would pay off the bonds. This allows the state to get money needed up front.

In the end, what can be accomplished this year to pay for roads in the state is unclear.