Final reports on the spending on Issue 1, the new half-cent state sales tax given exclusively to highway spending without legislative oversight, show a lopsided margin in campaign spending.
The committee formed to pass the measure, Vote for Roads, Vote for Issue 1, raised almost $2.3 million for the campaign. Highway contractors (including from out of state), other industrialists and pillars of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce gave generously.
On the other side was No Permanent Tax, No on Issue 1. In its last report, it indicated spending of $97,200, most of it by Americans for Prosperity, the political organization funded by the Koch fortune.
Issue One got 660,018, or 55.3 percent of the vote, while 532,915 voters, or 44.7 percent, opposed it. So the yes campaign spent almost $3.50 per vote, while the no campaign spent about 18 cents per no vote.
It’s not all about money, of course. Roads are always popular. Issue 1 institutes a new sales tax to replace a “temporary” sales tax that expires in 2023. Though the sales tax hits poor people the hardest, Arkansas voters have always been accepting of it. Indeed, the Koch forces emphasized the state’s extraordinary sales tax burden in their campaign. They also emphasized profligate spending, poor planning and lack of accountability on the part of the highway department.
Speaking of which: Issue 1 once was described as a backup for cost overruns on the 30 Crossing project to widen I-30 to 10 lanes through Little Rock. It is now expected to cost at least $1.3 billion, if built as originally intended. And there’s a big problem: Roughly $450 million was supposed to come from that “temporary” sales tax approved in a constitutional amendment. The Arkansas Supreme Court has said that would be an illegal expenditure, as was money spent on widening I-630 in Little Rock and anticipated for spending on widening in Saline County. How will those projects be paid now? How will the state restore the money spent illegally? The Arkansas Department of Transportation says it has ample money to shift around, which prompts my continuing questions — Why did we need a new sales tax in the first place? Court hearings may yet provide more specifics.
Another point on campaign spending: A huge amount of the campaign was spent on TV advertising on Little Rock stations. It wasn’t particularly effective in the immediate environs. Pulaski County defeated Issue 1, with 51 percent voting no. Pulaski voted 62 percent for the lat highway tax. The 30 Crossing concrete ditch isn’t popular here, for one thing. It’s primarily of benefit to suburban commuters. But funny thing: A billion-plus will be spent here with help from a tax the locals opposed. And projects around the parts of the state that supported the tax seem likely to be shorted in the money shuffle. Or else, again, we didn’t need the tax at all, right?