Governor says highway funding a priority in 2019

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' governor said Tuesday he believes it's possible to find consensus for raising additional money for the state's highways, but he stopped short of endorsing a specific plan yet to do so.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who was re-elected last week, said a new highway funding plan is a priority when lawmakers return to the Capitol in January for the legislative session. He said any highway funding plan is going to need to have consensus among lawmakers and industry groups, as well as support from the public.

“It might take some time. It might not be before the legislative session begins,” Hutchinson told reporters. “But we all know what the end goal is and there's an incredible amount of support for it in the public and the industry and mayors and counties. But the Legislature has got to figure out the exact way to fund the highway program.”

Hutchinson spoke at the annual meeting of the Good Roads Foundation, which has called for additional funding for the state's highways. Arkansas officials say the state highway system needs $478 million in additional funding a year just to meet its current maintenance and improvement needs.
Recent efforts to raise more money for Arkansas highways have stalled. Lawmakers last year rejected a proposal to put a 20-year bond issue on the ballot and potentially raise $200 million annually for the state's highways. The measure failed when some Republican lawmakers opposed an accompanying bill to raise taxes on gas and diesel to pay for the bonds. The state Highway Commission in February dropped an effort to try and put its own highway funding plan on this year's ballot.

Hutchinson, who has opposed past efforts to tap into general revenue such as taxes from vehicle sales, again expressed resistance to the idea given other budget needs. Hutchinson said a plan could include extending the half-cent sales tax voters approved in 2012 for highways. That tax expires in 2023.

Robert Moore, a member of the Highway Commission, said Hutchinson making road funding a priority is key for getting any effort through the Legislature.

“I think the governor's leadership is essential, and I'm proud he's taken that initiative,” Moore, a former state House speaker, said.

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