I've ranted before about the greed of the highway contractors lobby. Fresh off a huge tax increase, part of a deal that included a renege by the road-pounding truck lobby on a diesel tax increase, the highway lobby is trying to siphon off general revenue to further enhance the manifest construction destiny of the road building industry.
The bill to do this has run into some opposition, including from Gov. Mike Beebe. It's been a touch ironic that Republicans are leading this general revenue raid at the same time they are proposing other tax cuts for the wealthy and trims in government programs that would only be made more painful by a transfer of existing general revenue to highway building.
Now, the highway lobby has come up with a wrinkle to increase support — a bald kickback to city and county government, which constitute a powerful lobbying force at the General Assembly.
Check on the jump the letter from Chris Villines, director of the Association of Arkansas Counties, the publicly financed county lobby, urging an all-out push by county officials for the new version of the highway construction lobby's proposed raid on general revenues. Now, instead of giving a share of the money to cities and counties for road building, the bill would let them use the money for any purpose whatsoever.
By the highway lobby's figures, the phase-in of diverting the tax on vehicle sales to highways would eventually move $235 million in revenue annually to road construction and a whopping $101 million annually to cities and counties. An amendment to the bill, HB 1418, late last week let cities and counties spend their share of the loot any way they want, not just on roads.
It's outrageous. All the more so because the paid shill of the highway lobby, Craig Douglass, is among those who'd continue to be protected by successful opposition to pending legislation to end an exemption the ballot initiative committees have enjoyed from full reporting of campaign expenditures. You'll recall that the highway tax increase lobby spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to pass a highway tax and, through a legally dubious laundering process, disclosed virtually nothing about the spending except checks cut to Craig Douglass. Now they want to write blank checks to the counties for support of the legislation. Sounds a lot like payola. And no accountability. But that's the way the fat cats like it.
PS — Imagine how long it will take the Pulaski Quorum Court to convert this windfall into a personal pay raise.
LETTER FROM CHRIS VILLINES:
TO: All County Officials
FROM: Chris Villines
DATE: March 19, 2012
County Officials, be advised that HB1418 needs our immediate support. This is the "highway turnback" bill that the association supported a few weeks ago. However, major amendments to this bill over the weekend create an incredible opportunity for county government financing.
This bill will shift, over a period of 10 years, the sales tax revenues for purchases of new and used cars entirely to highway funding. This fund will be split on the 70/15/15 highway funding formula and would eventually send over $50 million annually to our counties.
The amendment to this bill that hit yesterday would allow all recipient counties to use the money for either road and bridge funding OR for any general purpose...a potential huge shot in the arm for our county general needs.
This bill poses a huge battle for us as the administration and higher education oppose it. It would, they say, siphon money away from the state's university system. We believe that county government is at least as important and deserves a very belated funding increase. We have attached two pieces of information to this email that offer important numbers to help explain how all areas of state government would be impacted over the next ten years with conservative growth of 3%.
It is urgent that we contact all legislators to beg their support for this bill. It is facing an uphill climb and will be heard in the House - Transportation Committee Thursday morning. If your representative sits on this committee, they are incredibly important at this point. The Legislators on this committee are listed below:
Jonathan Barnett, Chair
Walls McCrary Vice-Chair
George B. McGill
Mary "Prissy" Hickerson