Our View: Governor on the right road to highway funding

While we should all be relieved to now know Gov. Asa Hutchinson has no plans to include raising the gasoline tax in his revenue package addressing the state’s highway needs, we can already hear the whining and crying from state agency bureaucrats that he may be taking tax dollars away from them. Furthermore, Hutchinson will be getting some resistance from what we expect to be liberal lawmakers siding with these public employees and will be quick to suggest tapping Arkansas taxpayers rather than relying on part of the general revenue surpluses and reallocating other state funds to the highway department. Bear in mind these surpluses are tax dollars these bureaucrats believe belongs to them even though this is money over and above their submitted budgets. We’re told some key lawmakers are making it known that before they simply cave to the governor’s wishes they want more details. We’ve commended Hutchinson for not suggesting raising the gas tax even though it would be an opportune time based on the current price per gallon which is now just above $1.50. In our opinion, the governor’s plan to use $25 million a year from sales-tax collections on new and used vehicles for highway funding is something that should have been implemented years ago. We also feel current tax revenues generated from the sale of vehicle related purchases should be earmarked for highway projects rather than being funneled into the state’s general fund. Let’s make it clear by pointing out the state collects about $278 million a year just from the vehicle sales tax, and the state currently has well over $46 million in unobligated surplus funds and a so-called rainy-day fund balance of another $39.1 million. For those of you unfamiliar with how the state’s general funds are used most of our tax dollars goes towards public education and social services, paying the salaries of hundreds upon hundreds of state employees, and providing government subsidies to thousands of poor and low income Arkansans. We’ve been cautioned that while the increased fuel tax may not be in the current revenue plan that option will remain on the list of future alternatives. Let’s all keep in mind that while these state agencies are being well funded there is never, ever enough, and sympathetic lawmakers will always rally in support their needs, desires and demands with few concerns as to the consequences placed upon the taxpayers. The one positive aspect of all this is that Gov. Hutchinson and the majority of these elected officials clearly recognize that the taxpaying citizens of Arkansas are in no mood for more government taxation, especially knowing there are reasonable revenue alternatives available to them. For that reason, and that reason alone, we feel confident the governor’s recommendation will sail through any upcoming special legislative session despite the political theatrics.

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