Arkansas special election set for highway bond

| Friday, September 02, 2011

A Nov. 8 special election will allow Arkansas voters to decide whether to renew a $575 million bond program for highway work.

Gov. Mike Beebe signed off on the fall vote to renew a highway bond program that has been around for more than a decade. The Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle, or GARVEE, bonds have been combined with a 4-cent diesel tax for road upkeep dating back to 1999.

The bonds program allows states to borrow money against the annual federal transportation funding designated to pay for construction. The sale is based on the assumption that federal funding in future years would pay off the bonds. This allows states to get money needed up front.

Supporters say passage would authorize $575 million in bonds for roads, and create jobs. Otherwise, they warn that the state would need to divert existing revenues to complete road projects.

Initially, the bond renewal was supposed to be paired with a 5-cent diesel tax increase to generate more than $1 billion for roads. That plan fell through after the Arkansas Trucking Association determined that truckers did not want to pay more at the pump.

Arkansas officials have been scouring potential revenue sources to address a need for nearly $3 billion in interstate repairs and construction throughout the state.

To help address the need, the Legislature also agreed a few months ago to put before voters next year a temporary half-cent sales tax increase. The increase would be used to pay for a $1.8 billion bond program for new highway construction during the next decade.

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