Surprise: Voters want a free lunch highway plan | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Surprise: Voters want a free lunch highway plan

Posted By on Tue, Dec 1, 2015 at 7:03 PM

click to enlarge PRIORITIES: Here's how this poll ranked them.
  • PRIORITIES: Here's how this poll ranked them.

The highway contractors lobby (Good Roads Foundation) had a session today at, where else, the Country Club of Little Rock, to announce results on a poll of options for paying for more highway construction.

I predicted the bottom line when their lobbyist told me about it: People want more money spent on highways. But they don't want to increase taxes to do it. They'd prefer to take money from poor people. Or old folks, school kids and so on

That's about how it turned out.

Now here's my spin on those findings. 

People like highways even more than schools. They want more money spent on highways. They just don't want to raise taxes. Oh, a bare majority would go for as much as a 2-cent increase in the gas tax. But no more. And they want to vote on it, not leave it to the legislature. And they'll punish legislators who vote for a tax increase. They are all for taking vehicle sales tax money  that currently goes to general revenues and transfer it to highways. What happens to services now supported by that money? Who cares? That question wasn't asked.

This poll fits neatly with Gov. Asa Hutchinson's  free lunch highway plan. He's for a plan that doesn't require a tax increase. In other words, rob somebody else of THEIR money. Supporters of this line of thought will tell you that the rising tide of prosperity that these highways will bring will  swell state coffers with money for schools, prisons, police, colleges, health care and other services that rank lower on the priority list than freeways to nowhere and vast monuments of concrete to divide downtown Little Rock and move people like State Highway Director Scott Bennett to Saline County and back as fast as humanly possible. This thinking has been proven wrong time and again, but no matter.

Highway tax increases have always been a hard sell. They take leadership. The pollster didn't ask if people thought that strong leadership existed in Arkansas today. The respondents probably would have said, yes, absolutely. Bowing to the popular whim is leadership we like.

PS: Make truckers pay commensurate with the damage they cause? That isn't in the playbook either. (Though to its credit, the Good Roads people have talked about a five-cent diesel increase and indexing the gas tax to inflation.)

I mean really. What poll ever said voters WANTED taxes? I'd like to see a poll that asked respondents if they'd take a tax increase if that was the only way to maintain highways adequately without harming schools, public safety and old folks in nursing homes.

Those polled also favor keeping the remaining sales tax on groceries. Hell, that's a tax that hurts poor folks most. Who gives a rip about them?

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