Voters deciding highway funding

Friday, November 4, 2011

CARROLL COUNTY -- Voters statewide are headed to the polls to decide a bond issue to fund interstate highway restoration and improvement projects.

Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 8, with all 14 polls open across the county from 7:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.

Early voting is already under way at both county courthouses during regular business hours through the close of business Monday.

Voters can view their ballot ahead of time by visiting

The bond issue will not raise taxes, say state highway department officials. Instead, the issuance of bonds will generate money "up front" for the projects -- similar to what voters approved in 1999.

The bonds will be repaid using federal highway assistance funds the state receives each year -- money that is designated for federal highway interstate maintenance.

Glenn Bolick, a public affairs spokesman for the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD), said this bond request is no different from the bond request voters passed in 1999.

"It's the same," he said. "Essentially, the governor called for the election and the people passed it. We were allowed to issue bonds, and we got the money up front to pay for a billion dollar project. Then we used federal money to repay the bonds."

Bolick said the state highway commission attempted to get voter approval for a similar bond issue several years ago but that request was denied.

"It was the same idea," he said. "But it came up against some opposition."

That was because of ballot title wording, Bolick said, that some perceived as having no sunset clause attached.

"They didn't like how it was written and it was defeated," he explained. "This time, we're back with the original intent."

As a result, wording in the first paragraph of this ballot title clearly states that the bond debt shall not exceed $575 million at any time.

The ballot title also states the bonds shall "first" be repaid using federal money, and secondly from "revenues derived from the increase in the excise tax levied on distillate special fuels (diesel)."

Bolick said this is not a new diesel tax, it is the 4-cent-per-gallon diesel tax increase passed by the legislature in 1999, saying, "there are no added taxes, not to anyone."

The ballot title also states that projects funded with this money will be limited to the restoration and improvements to the existing interstate highway system within the state, including roadways, bridges, and rights-of-way.

Bolick said some of the 1999 money paid for rehabilitation of more than 300 miles of roadway that was milled and repaved.

The widening of a section of I-40 also took place at that same time, he said, using state money to build new lanes because the bond money couldn't be spent on new construction.

"The bond money is in addition to other money," he explained.

He noted that the voter-approved initiative in 1999 also set the limit at $575 million.

"It allows us to sell bonds up to $575 million, the same as in 1999," he said.

What voters don't realize because it's a complicated process, he said, is that $575 million in bond sales translated to more than $1 billion in work that was achieved using revenue from the bond sales and additional state funds.

"It allowed us more flexibility," he explained.

"The bottom line is -- it doesn't raises taxes. All we're doing is a reinvention of the 1999 vote."

The initiative is fully supported by the five-member state highway commission that includes Dick Trammel of Rogers. Bolick said it also has the support of Gov. Mike Beebe, who called for the vote.

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