Gov. Asa Hutchinson called reporters to the Capitol to say that he would “vigorously oppose” any potential highway funding plans that tap general revenue funds.
The highway construction industry and Highway Commission are working again on a money proposal to put into highway construction. A tax increase failed in the last legislative session.
Hutchinson last session approved a rare one-time use of general revenue to obtain $200 million in federal money. But he said that the principle of not allocating general revenue funds for highways “bears underlining and emphasizing today as the different groups look at the potential for a new highway plan in the future.
“There’s some discussion that we ought to divert sales tax from new and used cars or batteries over to highways. This would be anywhere from a $100 to 300 million hole in the general revenue budget if you took that funding and applied it to highways,” he said. “Those are funds that are necessary for education, for public safety, and for all the other needs of our state. And so, I say: ‘No.’ We cannot divert that general revenue stream for education, for higher education, and for other needs over to highways.”
Proponents of highway funding have said that it would be a gradual shift covered by a growing economy. Hutchinson said he wanted to use potential growth for other goals, like cutting taxes.
“They’re basically saying it’s not going to hurt general revenue that much because we’re going to grow our economy and it’ll be gradual,” he said. “Well, we want to use that
Hutchinson said he wanted the potential highway funding to go through the voters. But, asked if he would support a highway proposal that included a tax or fee increase, Hutchison was reluctant.
“The voters should make the decision on any initiative and I’m for it going to the voters for them to decide,” he said. “I won’t take a position on a particular ballot initiative until I see the exact language.”
Pushed again, Hutchison again said that the “voters should decide” if a fee or tax increase were tied to highway spending.