In advance of an Arkansas Highway Commission meeting, Governor Asa Hutchinson said he will not support directing general revenue funds to highways. He told reporters on Tuesday that he will oppose any ballot initiative that would re-direct general funds for roads.
“Those are funds that are necessary for education, for public safety and all the other needs of our state. So, I say no we can not divert that general revenue stream that’s needed for education, higher education, and other needs over to highways,” said Hutchinson. “That’s an important principle that needs underlining.”
The state Highway Commission voted in June to put a funding proposal on the 2018 ballot but have yet to decide on a specific funding mechanism.
In a special legislative session last year, Hutchinson became the first governor in modern Arkansas history to allocate general revenue to highways – rather than using user-fees, or special-use taxes, like a gas tax. Hutchinson said that was only a one-time, short-term fix to access federal dollars, and that he won’t accept that as a future option. But he didn’t advocate for a specific fix either.
“Any time you are dealing with highways and how to fund highways, the right place to go is to voters of this state who have proved time and time again they will support a highway initiative if it’s properly laid out,” said Hutchinson. “I applaud the Highway Commission and department for working on what can be a future proposal that will go to the voters.”
He continued after being asked for clarification by a reporter if he’d rule out gas tax increase, “The voters should make the decision on any initiative and I’m for it going to the voters for them to decide. I won’t take a position on a particular ballot initiative until I see the exact language of that,” he said. "Where I'm drawing the line is that if you're going to have any kind of tax increase, or a fee increase, or a diesel tax increase for highways then that ought to go to the voters to decide."
An Arkansas Legislative Audit report last month concluded the state has $478 million in unmet construction and maintenance needs, with the Department of Transportation's existing budget amounting to about half of what is needed.