Voters Say No to Highway Bond Issue

Arkansas voters on Tuesday rejected a measure that would have authorized refinancing a $575 million bond issue, and another proposal to issue $250 million in bonds for higher education institutions appeared in danger of failing as results remained tight Wednesday morning.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Ballot Question No. 1, the highway bonds proposal, was defeated with 40 percent voting yes and 60 percent voting no. Question No. 2, the education bonds, was too close to call, with votes against leading by about 700 votes.

Gov. Mike Huckabee, who traveled the state on Monday in support of both questions, said late Tuesday that he was "disappointed" in the results.

(Click here for a video of election-night analysis by Arkansasbusiness.com Publisher Jeff Hankins and more coverage from Arkansas Business news partner KTHV-TV, Channel 11.)

If approved, the highway bonds measure would have authorized the refinancing of a $575 million bond issue — created after a special election in June 1999 — to improve the state's highways. The language of the proposal would have allowed the Highway Commission, without additional voter approval, to reissue bonds up to the $575 million limit as the debt is paid down.

The question drew opposition chiefly from the Arkansas Trucking Association, which endorsed the bond in 1999. It later withdrew its support, arguing that renewing the bond will incur $1 billion in permanent state debt — in exchange for $575 million in highway improvements — and that the measure would transfer "continuing and permanent authority" for issuing bonds from the vote of the people to an appointed state commission, removing "legislative and public oversight."

Huckabee and other Question 1 supporters disputed those claims. Both sides formed committees to campaign for or against the bond issue.

With all the controversy on the highway bonds issue, Question No. 2 appeared to be an afterthought. That measure would issue $250 million in bonds for higher education institutions. The total bond issue would be used to refinance about $100 million in existing bonds, $10 million to connect the state's four-year universities to a super-Internet for data-heavy research, $90 million for physical improvements at four-year schools and $50 million for two-year campuses.

Previously:
Highway Bond Supporters Respond to ATA Claims
Truckers Form Committee to Oppose Highway Bonds
Highway Bond Supporters Fire Back at Truckers