AP NEWS

Arkansas panel backs putting highway sales tax on ballot

February 27, 2019

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas House panel endorsed a plan Wednesday to ask voters next year to permanently extend a half-cent sales tax for state highways.

The majority-Republican House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the proposal, which would ask voters to make permanent the sales tax for roads that’s set to expire in 2023. The measure now heads to the full House for a vote. Voters approved the half-cent sales tax in 2012.

The ballot measure is part of a highway funding plan Gov. Asa Hutchinson and legislative leaders unveiled earlier this month. Another part of the plan, which would raise fuel taxes and tap into expected casino revenue for road needs, is pending before the full House.

The changes are needed to help close a $478 million gap in annual funding state highway officials said is needed to improve and maintain the state’s roads.

“If something’s not done to give us a permanent and sustainable source of revenue for highways investment, then my job becomes to manage the decline of the highway system,” State Transportation Department Director Scott Bennett told the committee before the vote. “And that’s what we’ve been having to do over the last several years.”

The proposal has the backing of some of the state’s top lobbying groups, including the state Chamber of Commerce, which said it would campaign for the tax increase if lawmakers put it on next year’s ballot. But the proposal faced opposition from some GOP lawmakers who said they believe the state should look at existing revenue before asking voters to raise taxes.

“I can’t sit here and raise taxes on people knowing that there’s money that could be used for these roads,” Rep. Clint Penzo, who voted against the proposal, said.

___

Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo