LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A half-cent sales tax for highways that voters approved in 2020 isn’t limited to funding four-lane roads, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday, clearing the way for the tax to help fund an interstate project in the downtown Little Rock area.
Justices reversed a Pulaski County judge’s ruling that had prohibited the state from using funds from the highway tax to help fund the $1 billion overhaul of the Interstate 30 corridor that goes through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock.
The constitutional amendment voters approved in 2020 made permanent a sales tax for highways that was set to expire. But justices ruled that unlike the prior sales tax, the new measure did not include language restricting it to funding four-lane highways. Justices in 2020 had prohibited that tax from being used for the I-30 project.
“No language in the intent section of Amendment 101, or in the remainder of the amendment, indicates that the funds collected may only be utilized on four-lane-highway improvements,” the court said in its ruling.
The half-cent sales tax takes effect in July, and the state had committed to use $350 million in revenue from it for the I-30 project.
Arkansas Department of Transportation Director Lorie Tudor called the decision “a victory for the future of Arkansas’ roads.”
“The Highway Commission and ARDOT are grateful for today’s ruling that resolved the challenge concerning the use of Amendment 101 funds,” Tudor said. “It ensures the future flexibility in using Amendment 101 funds as intended by the Legislature, governor and the voters to maintain, repair and improve the state’s system of highways, with no limitation on the number of lanes.”
A group of neighborhood associations and residents had challenged the tax’s use, saying the state had committed to using the funds before voters approved the 2020 amendment.
“I am disappointed in the court’s decision, and that the $350 million of Amendment 101 tax money that the court approved for spending on widening Interstate 30 through Little Rock and North Little Rock will not be expended on the improvement of the state’s 4-lane highway system,” Richard Mays, an attorney for the groups and residents, said in a statement.
In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Dan Kemp said he would have reversed and dismissed the lower court’s ruling since the state has not begun collecting the new sales tax and had not spent any revenue from it on the I-30 project yet.
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