by Max Brantley
Sorry. I've been out all morning listening to a variety of discussion in the Little Rock school desegregation case.
Let me clear the mail out first.
The trucking industry lobby has thrown into reverse its grab to hang onto a recently enacted sales tax exemption on truck and trailer sales. It now says it will support repeal of the tax break, which hasn't taken effect yet, since there apparently won't be an election to raise the diesel tax, which was part of the deal.
Good idea. Greedy truckers would have made it harder than it already will be on a bond election merely to extend the current practice of borrowing against future federal highway revenue to pay for road repair bonds so the truck-ruined interstates will be easier to drive. And their example wouldn't have helped the general sales tax proposal for four-lane construction that will be on the 2012 election ballot.
Release follows on what the highway construction/truck/chamber of commerce lobby expects now from voters in the short run — approval of $575 million more debt that depends on future federal revenue for repayment.
The governor said today he will call an election on that bond extension — though not with an additional 5-cent diesel tax — but it's unclear if it will be in a special election or at the November 2012 general election along with the sales tax increase.
The Move Arkansas Forward Committee today decided to recommend to Governor Mike Beebe a special election be called reauthorizing the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to issue $575 million in bonds for Interstate rehabilitation. Called GARVEE bonds, the issue will be a continuation of the Interstate Rehabilitation Program passed by voters in 1999. The committee decided against recommending a version of the bond program, originally recommended by the Arkansas Trucking Association, that included a temporary 5¢ increase in the state’s diesel tax. The Association, in a letter last week to Governor Beebe, withdrew its support of a vote on the tax stating, “…while this is the right tax, it is the wrong time to ask voters to approve this measure.” Without support from the trucking industry for a vote on the tax, the committee felt the success of a special election called to raise the tax would be in doubt.
“Any campaign to increase a tax is a challenge,” said Madison Murphy, co-chair of Move Arkansas Forward. “Although the tax would be temporary and substantially paid by the trucking industry rather than the general public, our committee felt the trucking association’s support of a vote at this time was crucial. Without the trucking industry’s support for a campaign and a vote, we have chosen to ask the Governor to call a special election on the original option, that being the GARVEE-only bond issue, which does not include a tax increase.”
The bond program with the added revenue from a 5¢ diesel tax increase would have allowed the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to issue up to $1.1 billion in bonds. Combined with other revenue, the amount available for Interstate and national highway rehabilitation would exceed $1.5 billion over the next 10 years. Without the diesel tax addition, the highway department will be able to issue $575 million in bonds for a total construction program of approximately $1 billion, restricting the state’s portion to Interstate rehabilitation only. Total highway revenue is divided 70% to the state, 15% to cities, and 15% to counties. The program cannot go forward unless Arkansas voters approve the issuance of the bonds in a special election. There would be no authorization for additional taxes in the special election vote.
“We will be asking the Governor to call an election on the original GARVEE bond issue,” said Mark Lamberth of Batesville, co-chair with Murphy of Move Arkansas Forward. “This is a continuation of the 1999 Interstate Rehabilitation Program which improved 356 miles of Arkansas Interstates. The fact is there are over 650 miles of Interstates in Arkansas, so we have more work to do.” The Governor will decide the date of the special election.
Move Arkansas Forward is a committee made up of statewide interests including the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, Association of Arkansas Counties, Arkansas Municipal League, Arkansas Good Roads/Transportation Council, and associated industries. The Committee joined with the Arkansas Trucking Association during the recent legislative session to pass House Bill 1902 by Speaker of the House, Representative Robert S. Moore, Jr., enabling the Governor to have a second option of referring a bond program with the temporary diesel tax to Arkansas voters for approval. The original bond program without an increase in taxes has remained an option for Speaker Moore and the Committee to recommend to the Governor for a vote in a special election. The no-tax option will now be recommended.