Arkansas State Rep. Hutchinson pushes to change how highway money is divided

Hutchinson proposes changes she says will decrease traffic problems

News The Benton County Daily Record September 07, 2007
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Arkansas State Rep. Donna Hutchinson believes the state’s current system for dividing money for highways is rigid, outdated and inefficient, and she intends to do something about it.

Hutchinson, R-Bella Vista, is rallying for the current system to be replaced with one she regards as more equally fair to northwest Arkansas and Benton County.

The money currently is dispensed equally, but not in regards to vehicle travel. About 92% of traffic travels on one half of the state’s roads, and only the remaining 8% travels on the other. The current amendment, the Mack/Blackwell Amendment, doesn’t reflect this reality.

“Our state is divided into 10 highway districts, and the commissioners allot funds equally over generally a 10-year span,” Hutchinson said in a Sept. 4 press release.

“We need another amendment that reflects the reality of our Arkansas roads.”

Hutchinson also finds fault with the money being divided without significant consideration to safety, cost per mile or inflation, she said.

“A two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Arkansas General Assembly will be needed to declare a transportation crisis, and therefore monies can be used for an unusual incident. If the earthquake fault along our eastern border ever starts to rumble, state roads there wouldn’t be congested; they just wouldn’t exist. Safety of our citizens should be paramount.”

Hutchinson believes changes she proposes could curb some traffic congestion.

“Half of our highway funds should be used to end congestion. Fix the most severe first and work down the list; every section in the state has some congested state road. Dispense the other half following the current formula, equally dividing funds between the 10 districts,” she said.

Hutchinson has urged that House Revenue and Taxation Committee members study several questions about new highways, including how best to pay for them.

“Currently, we tax 22 cents on every gallon of gas. When the price of oil shoots up, the cost of building highways also increases. Arkansas citizens use less gas when the price is up, so the state receives fewer highway dollars just when the cost to build highways goes up. We should drop this approach and tax by the dollar—not the gallon. How much tax should we have on the price of gas? Six percent, 8%, 10%? What if the price of oil drops and the gas tax would drop below our current 22 cents? If the cost of oil drops, the price of building highways would also drop, so why keep collecting higher taxes from our citizens?” she said.

Hutchinson hopes debates in the Legislature will precede a collective decision in the state to switch to a new approach, she said.

She would like to see an initiated act on the ballot in 2008, one proposing to change the current formula for dividing highway funds and making other related changes, she said.

It may be too late to get such a proposal before voters in 2008. Many signatures would have to be gathered and other requirements would have to be met, with deadlines already looming, Hutchinson said.

If her proposal can’t be offered to voters in 2008, she said she will work to have state lawmakers recommend it to voters in 2009, to be included on state ballots in 2010.

New taxes, even new taxes for roads, should not be considered until the distribution of highway funds is more nearly fair, she said.

“I’ll not vote for any tax if it’s a 10-way split,” Hutchinson said.

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