New Highway Tax to Take Effect in Arkansas

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Monday, Jul. 1, 2013 7:11 am  

Highway Commissioner Robert Moore said the new tax "has to send a message out to people who are in leadership positions that people think good roads are important."

"We know what we need to do," said Barnett, R-Siloam Springs. "We're going to have to get into future revenue growth and any sensible person who has studied highway financing knows we've got to get into future revenue growth."

Education and health advocates lobbied against Barnett's bill, which they have dubbed "highway robbery," and say a variety of services would be hurt by diverting revenue growth to highways. They argued the damage would be even more severe, considering a package of tax cuts lawmakers approved that will eventually cost the state more than $140 million a year.

Beebe, who leaves office in 2015, said he remains philosophically opposed to transferring general revenue to highways.

"You've always got more needs than you've got resources for in general revenue, the chief of which is obviously education," Beebe said.

Barnett, who is term-limited and can't run for re-election next year, said he plans to continue pushing for the idea after he leaves office and said it may eventually take a group referring it to voters as a ballot measure.

He'll have allies among the state's top highway officials, who say they still see the transfer as the best option for addressing the funding deficit.

Highway Commissioner Robert Moore, the former House speaker who advocated referring the tax to voters, said he hopes whoever succeeds Beebe as governor and lawmakers will embrace the transfer idea or another long-term solution.

Moore said the approval of the highway sales tax by voters - at a time when Republicans won control of the Legislature partly on an anti-tax vow - should offer some guidance to the state's political leaders on how much of a priority they should place on road funding.

"It has to send a message out to people who are in leadership positions that people think good roads are important," Moore said. "Everybody, even those who don't get out and drive, is dependent on good access to transportation that determines how we enjoy the lives that we live."

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