A pair of measures advancing the $300 million highway funding plan backed by Governor Hutchinson sailed through the House this afternoon.
We had heard a few rumblings that there might be some drama today, but the measures passed with big majorities, despite some objections by Republicans who oppose the tax increases that will pay for the plan, the largest highway plan in the state’s history
A bill for $95 million in annual highway funding — which would raise taxes on gasoline by 3 cents a gallon and on diesel by 6 cents a gallon — passed the House today, 71-26. The gas tax hikes would raise around $58 million per year. The bill would also use at least $35 million a year in casino revenues, as well as $1.9 million annually from a new registration fee for electric and hybrid vehicles. The bill, which already passed the Senate, will head to the governor’s desk.
The House also passed a joint resolution 67-30 to refer an amendment to voters to make permanent the half-cent sales tax currently dedicated to highway bonds, first passed in 2012. The tax would otherwise expire in June of 2023. If ratified by voters in 2020, the extension would raise $205 million per year for highways (as well as $88 million a year for cities and counties). The resolution still must be approved by the Senate.
Hutchinson issued the following statement after the votes:
It is gratifying to work with members of the General Assembly who understand the dire need to fund the upkeep of our roads now and into the future. The passage of this historic bill is a solid and necessary measure to ensure we keep our roads in good repair, which is essential to our commerce and to daily life.
I appreciate the House chamber’s support, as well as the leadership from Speaker Shepherd and bill sponsor Representative Mike Holcomb for their work to pass this important legislation. I am hopeful the Senate will follow suit. It would be wrong to deprive Arkansans of the chance to extend the tax that they approved a decade ago. This is an important piece of our overall transportation plan.
* Correction: An earlier version of this post erroneously stated that SB 336, the $95 million highway funding bill, still needed Senate approval.