Thursday, May 19, 2016

Senate defeats bid to change committee hearing Hutchinson highway bill

Posted By on Thu, May 19, 2016 at 10:38 AM

click to enlarge SEN. BART HESTER (file photo) - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • SEN. BART HESTER (file photo)

The Senate opened with a fight over where to assign Gov. Asa Hutchinson's legislation to spend surplus and diverted revenue on highways the next few years.

Sen. Bart Hester asked for the bill to be reassigned from the Transportation Committee, where it might lack votes for approval, to the Revenue and Taxation Committee. A  group of senators prefers passing a tax for highways as a better means of guaranteeing needs will be met in the long-term.

Sen. Jimmy Hickey and Sen. Bill Sample, both proponents of a fuel tax increase, fought the reassignment.

Hester's motion failed, with 15 in support, needing 18 for passage.

The highway battle just got more interesting.

Hutchinson said any tax increase for highways should go to voters in 2018. In other words, where it couldn't be put on him when he runs for re-election in 2018.

The end game for the Senate tax increasers? Who knows. The Hutchinson plan came expeditiously out of a House committee. I detect no groundswell for a tax increase in the House, sensible as the Hickey-Sample path might be.

The bill failed to pass the Transportation Committee on a 4-4 vote. What's next?

The opponents of the Huchinson plan are not pushing a tax increase. Instead, they just want to put a one-year cap on use of surplus to fund highway construction. The governor sees it as a five-year plan to provide state money to bring greater federal matching.

UPDATE: The Senate reconvened early in the afternoon and Hester tried again to transfer the bill to a friendlier committee. Motion again failed. And that's where the day ended for the main reason the session was called, in limbo. Negotiations will continue. In the votes on moving the bill to another committee, five senators didn't vote. That had the same effect as a no, but it doesn't mean they are fixed for all time. They could hold the balance of power. They were David Burnett, Dorothy English, the governor's nephew, Jeremy Hutchinson, Bruce Maloch and Terry Rice.

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