I’d heard a group opposing the $300 million-a-year permanent sales tax for highway construction would file paperwork with the Ethics Commission today, but Michael Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette got the jump on it this morning.
A “temporary” half-cent sales tax otherwise will expire in 2022 (the state could have paid it off earlier had the bonds not been issued in such a way that they weren’t callable early to keep excess revenue flowing to the state, cities and counties.) This proposal from the legislature will keep that money flowing forever, socking highway users and non-users alike at a rate currently at $300 million a year, but rising forever with inflation and economic expansion. About $300 to $400 million of the initial haul will be dedicated to the Arkansas Freeway Building Department’s unnecessary billion-dollar concrete ditch project through Little Rock,
The heavy hitters of the state chamber of commerce — led by Waltons, Tysons, and the highway construction industry — have a $1.8 million kitty for an ad blitz in the weeks leading up to the election.
Now comes an opposition committee, No Permanent Tax. No on Issue 1. Wickline reports that it’s the work of the Arkansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the political lobby begun by Koch billionaires to promote their political agenda. They are, I hasten to say, not ALWAYS wrong.
Arkansas has one of the worst sales tax burdens in the country, a burden that falls heaviest on poor people. The Koch-heads believe, as do I, that highway users should pay more of the bill for highway maintenance. The trucking industry particularly, which pounds interstates to rubble over and over. A trucking lobbyist, surprise, is head of the richly funded committee trying to pass the permanent sales tax on the biscuit cookers.
This new tax is in addition to other general revenue incursions to funnel to the Highway Department, including from expanded casino gambling.
The Koch group promises a broad-based coalition on its side. We’ll see.
But I can say I learned about the coming opposition from one of those pointy-headed types who view the Big Little Rock Ditch project darkly and who think the highway department is short on forward-thinking planning and diversity of transportation options. Feet, bikes, rail and buses also can transport people around, you know, but get little to no attention from the road-building department. Auto traffic also can move efficiently by means other than controlled access 10-lane freeways.
At least the highway lobby won’t get by uncontested Nov. 3.
Now if we could get the Kochs on board to defeat the other two legislative amendments — one to effectively abolish term limits for the legislature and the other to further cripple the people’s right to petition government for law and constitutional changes.
Since the legislature and Republican Party have managed to defeat all the popular ballot proposals this year, there’s a simple campaign theme for the three legislature-proposed ballot questions this year:
Three strikes and you’re out.
JUST SAY NO!
UPDATE: The committee’s first news release:
Americans for Prosperity-Arkansas (AFP-AR) today announced the launch of “No Permanent Tax. No on Issue 1.”— a committee formed to oppose a constitutional amendment that would permanently extend a 0.5% sales tax increase in Arkansas. The tax increase, initially authorized by voters in 2012 and set to expire in 2023 to support state and local transportation, will cost taxpayers $293 million a year.
AFP-AR will leverage its signature grassroots efforts to urge voters to oppose another sales tax increase in Arkansas. AFP-AR State Director Ryan Norris will serve as chair of the committee.
No Permanent Tax. No on Issue 1. Chair Ryan Norris Issued the following statement:
“Our state already has the second highest sales tax rate in the country. With families and businesses struggling, Arkansas simply can’t afford a $293 million annual tax increase. Now, more than ever, we deserve smarter solutions to fund our infrastructure needs by making what we currently raise go further, ensuring money for roads and bridges is spent on roads and bridges – not pet projects.
“Voting no on Issue 1 will help reduce the burden on hardworking families and allow Arkansans to keep more of their hard-earned money. We look forward to getting out and mobilizing Arkansans against this harmful tax hike.”