Of course a tax increase is necessary to restore highway construction to levels desired by the Highway and Transportation Department and the construction industry.
Arkansas News Bureau reports this blast of common sense from one of the many task forces Gov. Asa Hutchinson has appointed to provide cover for coming policy initiatives.
Common sense doesn’t go far with the Republican legislature, though. Still they talk of “revenue neutral” highway construction plans and robbing other government services to pay for highways.
The idea of stealing increases in sales tax revenue from certain categories of expensive items — such as cars — to pay for highways is leight of hand. It is NOT revenue neutral for those who depend on inflationary growth in revenue to meet the inflationary growth in cost of services. Ten years of diverting the extra money to highways means, at the end a reduction in support in the core state services once supported by that money.
There is no revenue neutral way to provide more money for highways without harming support for other government services. Even stripping the payroll of all the relatives of legislators and other GOP nsiders installed in fat state jobs in the Hutchinson administration wouldn’t accomplish much. Half the state’s money goes to schools. Other big chunks go to prisons and colleges. When somebody like Rep. Andy Davis claims the state must look for cuts elsewhere before raising taxes, by all means take a look. But be sure to be specific about what will be cut to give the highway contractors more money. Don’t pretend there’s a mountain of fat just waiting to be lopped off.
And, hey, here’s an idea.Could we rethink the manifest destiny of building more and wider highways, particularly some of these freeways many are hellbent to build through vast stretches of piney woods, as if highways create jobs — not people, ideas, venture capital, natural resources? Take a ride along Mississippi’s vast network of rural freeways to nowhere first.
And must we ever invest enormous sums to move people across metro areas faster and out to suburbs on lengthening strands of superhighways?
The state does maintain a disproportionate number of miles of roads and highways. Some have suggested looking at that, but mostly as a means of stealing back city and county transportation tax set-asides.
Highway spending should get the same scrutiny the Republican legislators want to give to other public services. Health insurance for working poor creates a lot of jobs, too.