Arkansas panel looks at solutions to road funding crisis

| 7/31/2009

In need of at least $300 million more a year to maintain the network of state and local roads, a special panel created to find new sources for funding Arkansas highways has decided to fan out in search of more revenue.

The Arkansas Blue Ribbon Committee on Highway Finance has voted to split into two subcommittees and go in two directions for funding road improvements. They will focus on potential new sources of revenue, including higher state fuel taxes and property taxes, and look at existing sources, such as rerouting some sales tax revenue that now goes to the state general revenue fund and putting it into roads.

The 19-member panel was created this year by the Arkansas Legislature to find ways to meet road needs while coping with fewer fuel tax dollars prompted by more fuel-efficient vehicles and drivers traveling less. The group will form two subcommittees to pursue funding options.

Dan Flowers, the director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, told the special panel the state needs $200 million more annually to pay for state highways, the Arkansas News Bureau reported. At least $100 million more is needed for upkeep on city and county roads.

All options for generating revenue have their detractors. Lawmakers and Gov. Mike Beebe are leery of pursuing tax increases. Opponents of siphoning from the state’s general budget for roads point out that 70 percent of that revenue goes to education.

Others say the panel would be best served to look at how the state Highway Commission now allocates money to road projects throughout the state. They say it makes more sense to have the majority of the funds now coming in go to population centers, instead of divvying it between regions.

The panel will submit their recommendations to the Legislature and the governor by next summer. That will allow lawmakers time to prepare possible legislation for the next regular session in 2011.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Arkansas in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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