Political News

Bid to send highway plan to Arkansas voters fails in House

Posted March 14

— An effort to ask Arkansas voters to approve a $200 million highway improvement initiative failed Tuesday in the state House after several Republicans objected to an accompanying plan to raise fuel taxes.

The proposal to put the 20-year bond initiative on the ballot next year received 38 votes in favor and 35 against, falling far short of the 51 needed for a majority in the 100-member chamber.

The lawmaker behind the plan asked the chamber to skip a vote on a companion measure to levy the state's 6.5 percent sales tax on the wholesale price of gasoline and diesel to pay for the bonds. The tax would have only taken effect if voters approved the bond issue.

"I'm not coming here today to ask you all to raise the revenue," Republican Rep. Dan Douglas said before the vote. "I'm coming here today to ask you all to let the citizens of the state of Arkansas decide if this is the way they want to fund their highway system."

Douglas said he hadn't ruled out trying another vote on the highway plan and wanted to talk to lawmakers who opposed it or didn't vote.

"We'll visit with them to see if there are concerns that can be addressed," he said after the vote.

The proposals had the support of Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who endorsed the legislation last week but stopped short of saying whether he'd actively campaign for the initiative if it made the ballot. Highway officials have said the state faces a growing gap between its state and federal funding and its needs over the next decade.

But the measures faced opposition from conservative groups who objected to the tax increase proposal. Several GOP lawmakers echoed those concerns, saying they believed backing the proposal would amount to supporting a tax increase and questioning why the state couldn't tap other existing revenue for road needs. Republican Rep. Andy Mayberry said putting the proposal on the ballot would amount to legislators supporting the tax increase.

"I believe that when we send this out, it provides a tacit endorsement from this legislative body that we think this is the right thing to do and we think this is the best way to go," Mayberry said.

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

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