The Arkansas Legislature finished up a three-day special session Monday that concluded with Governor Asa Hutchinson signing a $50 million state highway funding appropriation that was initially rejected by the Senate’s transportation committee.
Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram, a Democrat from West Memphis, says Governor Asa Hutchinson’s plan solves one issue but introduces new ones.
"I think it creates a lot of problems potentially for the budget down the road, and I think a lot of people – certainly the transportation committee – were ready to address the problem on a long-term basis instead of this one-year-at-a-time deal where you can’t make any plans. It’s not a good way to conduct business."
House Majority Leader Ken Bragg, a Republican from Sheridan, says the new highway bill may highlight the need for an increase in the fuel tax or similar funding mechanism, but he would like to put that to a statewide vote.
"I think if it’s proposed as a ballot issue for a general referendum, I think that would be acceptable. Let the whole state decide, you know, if they want to pass a gas tax, just like we did several years ago. I think that’d be more amenable than just passing a tax you know from the House itself," Bragg told KUAR.
The governor agreed during the signing ceremony, saying any tax increase or "significant tax shift" should be brought before voters, but in the same breath Hutchinson said, “I actually believe that … we’ve got a pretty good plan for the next five years here."
The $50 million dollar appropriation qualifies the state for $200 million in federal matching funds, an opportunity Hutchinson pointed out repeatedly before and during the special session.
The governor signed the bill just a few hours after a final approval came from the Senate with a 21-10 vote.
Before adjournment in the House, Speaker Jeremy Gillam thanked his colleagues "for your effort, not only in the last three days in the special session, but for the fiscal and the previous special session," he said. "I don't know that words would properly express my gratitude to each and every one of you and the work that you've put in to making this a successful biennium so far."
The fiscal session earlier this month saw lawmakers agree to accept federal healthcare dollars to continue the state's Medicaid expansion program, rebranded by Gov. Hutchinson as Arkansas Works. About 267 low income residents in the state now have coverage trough the program.
KUAR's Michael Hibblen and Sarah Whites-Koditschek contributed to this report.