Highway Commission distances itself from casino amendment | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Highway Commission distances itself from casino amendment

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2018 at 3:58 PM

click to enlarge MISLEADING: Driving Arkansas Forward, a group formed to push new casinos, still displays a logo on a website indicating roads will be a beneficiary.
  • MISLEADING: Driving Arkansas Forward, a group formed to push new casinos, still displays a logo on a website indicating roads will be a beneficiary.
The Highway Commission issued a statement today to make clear a proposed casino gambling expansion amendment provided no money for highway construction, despite what some ads seem to imply.

As originally conceived, the amendment to allow casinos in Jefferson and Pope counties and to expand gambling at existing casinos in Hot Springs and West Memphis did earmark tax revenue for highways. But the final version of the amendment sends money mostly to state general revenues, with some allowances for local governments and racing purse funds at the dog and horse tracks.

But the amendment messaging suggests highway spending could be a use of the new revenue.

Said the Highway Commision:

The Highway Commission has no position on gambling in Arkansas – that is up to the people to decide should the issue be certified for the ballot. However, the Commission believes the citizens need to have a clear understanding of the proposal. Specifically, citizens need to understand that the proposal does not direct any of the revenue to be generated from the casinos to our state’s highways, despite what some of the promotional ads are implying.

This proposal is being promoted by a group calling itself Driving Arkansas Forward. They continue to use language and promotional materials that are leading people to believe that
the proposed amendment would provide much needed new funding for our state’s highways. That is simply not the case. Of the tax revenue estimated to be generated from the casinos, more than half (55%) is being directed to the state’s General Fund. None is being directed to the state’s highway fund.

Again, the Highway Commission has no position on gambling in Arkansas. But the citizens who will decide need to make their decision based on facts. The fact is, the proposed Constitutional amendment regarding casino gambling is not a highway funding
proposal.
The legislature COULD dedicate the money to highways. The Arkansas Department of Transporation already benefits from a sales tax dedicated to highways, in addition to fuel taxes, and the governor recently directed use of general revenue held in his rainy day fund for highway construction.

The secretary of state is reviewing signatures submitted for the amendment to see if a sufficient number of registered voters signed to put the measure on the ballot.

UPDATE: A response from Driving Arkansas Forward by Nate Steel, counsel for the campaign.

This attack on a citizens’ ballot proposal by a state agency is unprecedented, unfair and inaccurate. All of us recognize that our roads need more funding, and we have always made clear this ballot measure would be one part of what should be a larger solution to improving our highways and our economy. When approximately 30 percent of Arkansans acknowledge regularly leaving the state for casino gaming, Driving Arkansas Forward understands the importance of keeping those tax dollars in Arkansas.

Driving Arkansas Forward advertisements cite facts and make clear these additional tax revenues could be used for roads and highways, and it is the organization’s primary goal to make sure our policymakers dedicate more money for highways. We believe that if voters pass Issue 4, they will be sending a signal to lawmakers that increased road funding should be a priority for the revenue generated by the amendment.

Issue 4 would enable the state to fund roads through economic growth, increased tourism and investing our dollars right here in our own state. We are confident voters recognize that, and we are disappointed the Arkansas Department of Transportation does not.

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