Next Tuesday Arkansans are to vote on two bond proposals, one about improving our interstate highways and the other to raise money to build more buildings at the state’s colleges to accommodate the increased enrollments. If they are passed, there will be no increase in taxes.
We need to maintain our interstate highways and even try to get more of them in our state. Good highways attract visitors and businesses and help all of us who drive on them. I do every time I go from North Little Rock to Little Rock.
Many believe that if we provide new buildings for colleges more young people will enroll in them. Governor Huckabee says statistics show that when most Arkansas kids go out of state to college they never come back.
To be honest I would rather be voting to give all our colleges better professors and bigger curriculums rather than buildings. None of our colleges, state or private, made the list of America’s 100 best colleges this year.
In any event, I am going to vote for both of the proposals, and I think most of us will, despite the foolhardy attack on the highway program that suddenly exploded about a month ago. The people who started it were Lane Kidd, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, and a small group of Republican legislators.
This is strange because on March 8 when the legislature passed a bill to let the Highway Commission issue bonds to get money to pay the state’s part in building and maintaining interstate highways, the vote in the Senate was 32-1 against and in the House, 82-6. The law also said that the state would stop spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to have everyone in the state vote on highway bonds as has been done in the past. Kidd and the executive members of the Trucking Association approved it. In fact, men from three of the state’s biggest Trucking companies were members of the Arkansas Trucking Association’s board.
But suddenly seven months later, on Nov. 7, the association turned around, saying that its leaders didn’t realize that the bill would allow the Highway Commission to issue bonds as it deemed necessary, even though it had been explained in the Arkansas Truckinging Association’s magazine. Some say they are uneasy with fear that the U.S. revenue backing the bonds might fade in spite of the fact that nothing like that has happened since 1916.
Anyway, most people who have watched all this aren’t bothered about the state issuing these bonds because in 1999 that is exactly what the legislature passed and sent to the public to decide. The vote: 109,282 yes, 28,232 no. The tax on diesel fuel was raised 4 cents a gallon to help pay for the bonds, and now some members of the Arkansas Trucking Association are saying this new bill will increase the price of the diesel fuel. Both Governor Huckabee and the highway commissioners have said there are no such plans.
What is the real reason why Trucking Association President Kidd and others waited so long to try to persuade people to vote against the legislative program to improve Arkansas’s interstate highway? It may be answered by something Kidd told Ernie Dumas who wrote a story about it in last week’s Arkansas Times. Kidd said his people were not against highway bonds but they didn’t like the Highway Commission getting the right to issue them.
“The people weighing in on a bond issue is the last vestige of control that we have over the Highway Commission in the state,” he said. “They [the commissioners] are so arrogant that they would slam the steel door shut on any voice from the people. That needs to be addressed.”
For years Kidd’s organization — and some others — have fought the Highway Commission, wanting the legislature to have the commissioners elected rather than appointed by the governor. While some Arkansas commissioners in the past have been treacherous, can you imagine just how partial they would be to building or repairing roads in the areas that elected them? The answer to that is why only one state, Mississippi, elects its highway commissioners.
In 2001, the Truckinging lobbyists persuaded former Sen. Bill Gwatney of Jacksonville to try to get the legislature to make the election of highway commissioners one of the three amendments to the constitution that the legislature can present to the voters every two years. Gwatney worked hard to try to persuade his fellow legislators to vote for his amendment, but it was turned down. Gwatney was undoubtedly sorry because he runs one of the biggest Chevrolet agencies in Arkansas.