The business lobby, led by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the construction industry, is desperate to raise the sales tax by a half-cent in 2023 so as to keep in place the temporary sales tax for a four-lane construction program that will expire then.
It will be the biggest turnover yet of general revenue money to highways, where a disproportionate amount of the spending is devoted to repairing damages by heavy trucks to interstate highways. The truckers’ tax burdens don’t begin to offset the cost. Passenger vehicles, on the other hand, disproportionately shoulder the load.
If the chamber has its way on the legislatively referred Issue One, even non-users will pay.
According to the latest filing from the Vote for Roads committee formed to pass the tax increase (they’ll tell you it’s not an increase, but a continuation. To my way of thinking, a new tax is a tax increase if the rate on the effective date otherwise would have been lower):
$1.65 million has been poured into the campaign so far, with familiar highway contractors in the list of donors, along with the poultry industry, trucking industry and $200,000 from Alice and Jim Walton, whose companies trucks are ubiquitous on highways. You won’t find any grassroots advocates on the list.
The orgy of ad spending hasn’t begun, perhaps out of some concern for the suffering working poor in Arkansas during the pandemic. It is not a great time to be asking for a tax increase, even for historically popular road-building.
Will opposition form? The last highway tax passed handily. But the four-lane proposal was popular (if not in Little Rock, where a billion-dollar concrete ditch awaits us that will serve little practical purpose except aiding shippers on the Arkansas River with better placement of bridge piers.)
There’s some ground for opponents, should they exist, to plow.
Our gas tax, a user fee essentially, is relatively low compared with the rest of the country. But our combined state and local sales tax rate is 2nd highest in the country by some estimates and this would solidify the rate by making permanent a tax due to expire. Another talking point is the question, unstudied by the highway builders, of changes in vehicle usage and whether the pandemic will produce a lasting impact on where people work and live. Forward-thinking has never been a hallmark of the freeway builders. Above all else, the truckers must be served.
Also, there’s some growing questioning these days generally about the wisdom of government.
If I had to guess, this tax increase (passed by the legislature at the behest of the business lobby that tries to kill popular voter initiatives) will pass. But it deserves more than unquestioning ratification from voters.
Ask yourself if the bankrollers have the interests of little guys at heart, except for a little trickle-upon?
Case in point: Think of the emphasis in the state government response to the pandemic in Arkansas. It’s been all about serving business. Industrial workers and school children just might have to sacrifice for the greater good of the economy.
Each link below is a monthly report of contributions to the pro-tax campaign.