House defeats highway bill in first vote | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

House defeats highway bill in first vote

Posted By on Tue, Mar 14, 2017 at 3:19 PM

click to enlarge REP. DAN DOUGLAS: "We're voting to let the voters decide."
  • REP. DAN DOUGLAS: "We're voting to let the voters decide."
The Arkansas House Tuesday took up the two bills for highway construction.

One bill, to authorize a $200 million highway bond issue, would go to voters. It was considered first and failed after extensive debate, 38-35, with seven voting present. That meant 20 representatives didn't vote.

After that defeat, the sponsor asked to pass action on the second bill, to assess the 6.5 percent state sales tax on fuel sales at the wholesale level, but only if voters approved the bond issue. Rep. Dan Douglas, the sponsor, emphasized that this effectively meant the legislature would not be raising taxes but would leave the issue to voters.

In floor questioning some members asked about using a hoped-for windfall from forcing collection of sales taxes on Internet sales. That legislation hasn't passed yet, Douglas replied. And the size of the revenue isn't known either. Douglas also said the state might have other needs that could benefit from that money. Rep. Charlie Collins, another supporter, also cited other needs, including income tax reduction.

At today's prices, the tax would cost about 10 cents a gallon, which several opponents noted, and the cost will be passed along to motorists.

Rep. Andy Mayberry said the middle-class tax cut recently approved would be eaten up by gas taxes. Which brought a computation to mind: If you drive 12,000 miles a year and average 20 miles a gallon, the tax will cost $60 a year, or a bit more than $1 per week.

Rep. Tim Lemons spoke for the bill. He said he wasn't sure if he supported the tax, but he supported letting the people make a decision.

Rep. Mark McElroy
 (I wrote his first name incorrectly originally) of Tillar said he didn't much like the Highway Commission, but said he'd decided to vote for the bill anyway. "These roads are not going to fix theirself."

Douglas closed by promising that the title of the bond issue would include a reference to its trigger of a fuel tax increase. The bill can be presented again.

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