Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families — a nonprofit that works for the interests named — has a new blog post illuminating the problem we’ve cited about Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s free-lunch highway plan.
There’s a real need for new highway funding, but without some form of fuel tax increase, millions of new dollars for Arkansas’s roads and bridges means someone is going to be left holding the bag.
The governor wants to get through the first year by spending down some of the rainy day fund and using part of remaining surplus funds. As far as short term solutions, it could be a lot worse. But big problems with the Governor’s plan show up in year two and beyond. The plan leaves a number of important questions unanswered. Most concerning is: how will we handle the unprecedented withdrawal of general revenue funds, which are already taking a beating from the most recent two rounds of tax cuts? If the state fails to replace the funds taken out of general revenue, and there is no guarantee that they can or will be able to do so, the list of critical services that could be on the chopping block is long and alarming. Think of programs that protect abused and neglected children, kids in pre-k or afterschool and summer programs, public defenders and firefighters.
This is simple arithmetic. If Hutchinson succeeds — and opposition is negligible — in transferring three-quarters of a BILLION dollars from general revenue to highways over the next 10 years that money is going to come out of all the other state agencies — public schools, colleges, prisons, State Police, human services — that otherwise would have received the money.
To date: Hutchinson’s explanation is that “efficiencies” will cover the no-cost highway plan. That’s a euphemism for budget cuts. Starving government services (save corporate welfare highway building) is a central tenet of Republican governance and thus it is being cheered by the likes of the Koch brothers-financed political lobby in Arkansas. Better highways? No cost? (Except to school children, public safety and public health?) What’s not to like?