John Lyon at the Arkansas News Bureau illustrates — in the case of money to maintain and build highways — that there is no free lunch in state government.
You can’t accommodate inflation and cover existing and growing needs without more money — that is, a tax increase.
“Creative” thinking of the sort advocated by Rep. Andy Davis of Little Rock means taking the money from somebody else — meaning a reduction in that service.
Here, the debate is over reducing the amount of rural roads maintained by the state highway department. That would produce some money for higher volume roads, but it would place a burden on local governments that rural areas, particularly, don’t have the resources to bear, not even with tax increases.
Randolph County Judge David Jansen said that for the last 10 years he has had $100,000 in his budget to maintain 150 miles of roads. He said that each year he and his road foreman drive all 150 of those miles and estimate how many loads of asphalt they need — and $100,000 is never enough.
Other creativity includes stealing the set aside from highway revenue for cities and counties. Again: More money for the state, less money for cities and counties.
The city/county lobby is one reason why the free-lunch crowd is lobbying so hard to get a share of general revenue for highways. They claim they want only growth money from carving out a huge chunk of general revenue generated by vehicle purchases. But when the services now supported by that money — schools, prisons, colleges, social services — lose the elasticity of growth money, they are punished by inflation. Services must decline.
That pretty well leaves working poor. Thus, tax cuts that don’t include the working poor and the clamor to cut “welfare” — nursing home care, home health services, medical services and the like.
No free lunch? No lunch at all for the voiceless in Arkansas.
PS — The state probably DOES maintain too many miles of highway, product of decades of the dominance of rural interests.