Our View: Working Group’s highway funding plans need serious scrutiny

Now that Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s special highway funding “dream team” has come up with its ideas to generate more money to maintain the state’s very needy road budget, we’re already hearing rumblings of resistance from a handful of Democrats who say any tinkering with the current distribution formula would be devastating to the state’s cities and counties. Two Democrats, Rep. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, and Rep. David Hillman, D-Almyra, both have asked the governor to oppose such a change, saying cities and counties would suffer if the amounts they receive were to be reduced. As we’ve said, the two Democrats, are opposing proposals made by the so-called Highway Working Group, a task force formed by the governor and headed by former state legislator Duncan Baird, to change how highway funds are divided between the state, counties and cities. For those unaware, currently highway funds paid out of general revenue are divided, with the state receiving 70 percent and the cities and counties getting 15 percent each. In the letter sent to Hutchinson, Rep. Gray said, “Currently, counties and cities are responsible for maintaining 84,176 of the 102,594 miles of roads in Arkansas with only a combined 30 percent of revenues generated for road maintenance and improvements. County and city governments, especially our rural ones, are already financially struggling to maintain roads and structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges. Lowering the amount of state revenue counties and cities receive would be detrimental to the overall well-being of infrastructure in Arkansas.” Rep. Hillman noted his opposition to any change in the formula in a public statement released recently, saying the traditional 70-15-15 formula has been a fair way to distribute funds, and said whatever methods are used to generate additional revenue, the proportions should remain the same. “The transportation needs in Arkansas are more than just those of the state highway system; they are also those of our counties and cities, all of which are necessary for the adequate and safe roadways that our citizens deserve,” Hillman said in the statement. The two lawmakers are certainly correct in saying that this governor’s task force has proposed altering that formula, which should cause much concern among every city major and every county judge in the state. We would certainly think, and actually believe, that before Gov. Hutchinson makes his final recommendations he will certainly take into consideration the financial impact any change to the funding formula would have on the state’s cities and counties. We would also think that in no way would he even suggest placing such a financial burden on the state’s cities and counties. We would strongly suggest that even our own local mayors in Crittenden County, as well as county Judge Woody Wheeless, take a very serious look at this task force’s recommendation and offer their input as to the proposed revenue ideas before any final decisions are made.O

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