Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday signed into law the state’s largest and most comprehensive highway funding plan in history.
The plan will bring in $300 million annually for the state highway department and $110 million each year for cities and counties to maintain local streets and roads.
“This is an historic highway funding bill both in terms of its breadth, in terms of its size and in terms of what it will accomplish for the people of this state,” Hutchinson said during a news conference Tuesday. “This was an enormous lift. It was hard, it was difficult in legislation. It was passed with the broadest bipartisan support that can be imagined in a funding a highway program.”
The bill passed with 67 votes in the Senate and 71 votes in the House.
“We came together to get this job done. The need is evident,” Hutchinson said before turning to address the state highway commissioners in the room. “Thank you for your leadership. A lot is on your shoulders and we know you will do a great job of spending this money and helping us with the rest of the campaign.”
The plan consists of two parts: extending the 1/2-cent sales tax of 2012, which will result in nearly $206 million a year for highways and ongoing funding that will generate a little more than $95 million a year.
The ongoing funding will come from a new index ($0.03) on gasoline and ($0.06) on diesel prices, additional fees for hybrid and electric vehicles and dedicated casino tax revenues with a minimum guarantee $35 million.
“In addition to the extension of the half-cent sales tax, other components of this plan, such as the registration fees on hybrid and electric vehicles and the casino tax revenues., have future growth potential,” the governor’s office said in a news release. “This upward trajectory in funding will provide certainty for our highway program where none previously existed.”
Hutchinson said the plan “really illustrates where we are right now in the state of Arkansas,” noting that its the largest in the state’s history.
Previous highway programs:
* In 1985, the state passed the Rural Road Program, which was $40 million.
* In 1991, it passed the Highway Improvement Program for $50 million.
* In 1999, it passed the Interstate Rehabilitation Program at $60 million.
* In 2012, it passed the Connecting Arkansas Plan for $175 million.
In addition to the highway plan, Hutchinson signed in two reform bills — SB 385 and SB 386 — for oversight and transparency on the spending. President Pro Tempore Sen. Jim Hendren and Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd, who stood at the governor’s side during the news conference, were instrumental in the reform bills and each spoke about the importance of the highway plan.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done. I’ve been in the legislature for a long time and I don’t think I’ve ever voted for a tax increase but somehow I’m sponsoring this one,” Hendren said with a laugh. “It just goes to show, I think all of us have come to realize just how important roads are. I think it’s a great thing for Arkansas and I’m glad we were able to get it accomplished as quickly as we were.”
Shepherd praised the bipartisan effort on the bill.
“I’m very proud of the work, we were able to accomplish here. These bills are a model of how the legislative process should work,” he said. “There was a lot of back and forth and ultimately we found common ground.”
To read the bill in its entirety, visit http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us.