Our View: Wait… highway funding with no new taxes?

We must admit, we were pleasantly surprised when we heard Gov. Asa Hutchinson propose a multi-pronged plan to boost highway funding that did not include raising the tax on the fuel we purchase. After all, these politicians in Little Rock have been pondering on ways to generate more tax dollars for highway needs since before 2010 when then Gov. Mike Beebe put together his so-called Blue Ribbon Committee on Highway Finance. Then came along Hutchinson who formed his own special highway committee that came up with everything from sizable increases in taxes on gasoline diesel fuel to the radical idea of tax per mile driven. Hutchinson, at least in the short term, is proposing a reallocation of sales taxes from new and used cars up to $25 million a year over a five-year period, reallocating $2.7 million a year from the state’s diesel tax and no longer deducting $5.4 million a year for state central services from the state ‘half-percent sales tax devoted to highways. Politicians being who they are generally embraced Hutchinson’s proposals realizing that the idea of raising taxes be politically unpopular among their constituents. Let’s keep in mind the tax dollars the state spends on highway needs is in addition to at least $200 million a year from the federal government. The state supposedly needs $46.1 million in additional matching funds by Sept. 30 and average of about $50 million a year thereafter. Hutchinson projected his plan would raise about $750 million in state funds for highways over a 10-year period which means Arkansas will be spending about $2 billion in federal funds over the same 10-year-period. To be honestly fair, many of Hutchinson’s recommendations aren’t his nor did they originate from his committee. In fact, Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, has tried and failed on three separate occasions to get many of the recommendations Hutchinson is now proposing passed. Douglas’ latest attempt during the last regular session would have shifted as much as $2.8 billion over 10 years from general revenue to state highway maintenance. Let’s face it, government never has enough tax dollars and politicians are often too quick to simply propose higher taxes as their solution and it seemed highly likely that sapping Arkansans with increased fuel taxes when the price of gasoline is declining would be on the governor’s immediate plan. Again, we were pleasantly surprised to hear higher fuel taxes aren’t on the immediate “things to do” list, and we certainly want to commend Gov. Hutchinson for embracing this vision that spreads the pain out so softly and over so many years as one observer so cleverly described. We seriously hope that these recommendations will be embraced by lawmakers in the near future as will as all those highway department experts who have been complaining they don’t have enough money to meet the needs of fixing and replacing the roads, bridges and highways throughout the state.


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