Of­fi­cials con­sider $8.4B plan to fund Arkansas roads

El Dorado News-Times - - Business -

LIT­TLE ROCK (AP) — Trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials in Arkansas are con­sid­er­ing an $8.4 bil­lion fund­ing plan for high­way and bridge main­te­nance.

The Arkansas High­way Com­mis­sion met Wed­nes­day to look at a po­ten­tial new fund­ing pro­gram for law­mak­ers or vot­ers to con­sider next year, the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette re­ported.

The plan would be funded by adding a 6.5 per­cent ex­cise tax on the whole­sale price of fuel and ex­tend­ing a 0.5 per­cent state sales tax for another 10 years, said Scott Ben­nett, direc­tor of the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment.

Ben­nett de­vel­oped the pro­posal af­ter Gov. Asa Hutchin­son said he would "vig­or­ously" op­pose us­ing state gen­eral rev­enue for high­ways, a key fac­tor of pre­vi­ous pro­pos­als the com­mis­sion was con­sid­er­ing.

State high­way of­fi­cials have been try­ing for sev­eral years to find a long-term source of high­way fund­ing. Of­fi­cials said the cur­rent fund­ing level can't prop­erly main­tain Arkansas' 16,000mile (26,000-kilo­me­ter) road sys­tem. The state gets about $475 mil­lion in state rev­enue an­nu­ally for high­ways.

Trans­porta­tion data show that state high­way rev­enue was 14.4 per­cent of state gen­eral rev­enue in 1980. It was 6.6 per­cent of state gen­eral rev­enue in 2016.

If high­way rev­enue had kept pace with ris­ing state gen­eral rev­enue, more than $900 mil­lion would avail­able ev­ery year for high­way main­te­nance and con­struc­tion, "and we wouldn't be hav­ing this dis­cus­sion," Ben­nett said.

High­way of­fi­cials are ex­pected to re­fine Ben­nett's pro­posal be­fore the com­mis­sion's Fe­bru­ary meet­ing.

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