Arkansas Voters Accept $575 Million Bond Plan to Fix Highways

Arkansas voters favored a measure authorizing $575 million in debt to fund highway repairs, with about 76 percent of the vote counted in a special election called by Governor Mike Beebe.

The proposal won support from more than 81 percent, with about three-quarters of precincts reporting, according to results posted today on the Secretary of State’s website.

The measure would let the state highway commission borrow money that would be repaid with federal funds and an existing 4-cent levy on each gallon of diesel fuel sold in the state. The tax generates about $13.5 million a year, according to a statement on the state House of Representatives’ website.

“These bonds will allow us to continue the work of modernizing our interstates,” Beebe, a Democrat, said Oct. 28 in his weekly column. “The re-construction work will create jobs, and better roads will improve economic development.”

Passage would create about 28,000 construction jobs, Beebe, 64, said in the column, posted on his website. The money would be used to improve more than 300 miles of highway. He said better roads will help the economy and make it more competitive with its neighbors in attracting and retaining business.

The grant anticipation revenue vehicle, or Garvee, bonds, which mature in 12 years, would be sold from next year to 2015. The bonds rely partly on funds drawn from federal fuels taxes.

No Tax Effect

“There’s nothing to be gained by voting this measure down,” Beebe said. “While taxes will not go up if the bond is approved, they also won’t go down if voters reject the proposal.”

The Move Arkansas Forward Committee, whose members include the state’s Chamber of Commerce, Municipal League and the Arkansas Trucking Association, led supporters of the measure.

Opponents rallied around Secure Arkansas, a group that promotes free-market capitalism and fiscal responsibility, according to its website. The Washington County Tea Party and state Representative David Meeks, a Conway Republican, also fought the borrowing.

Money from a 1999 bond offering wasn’t spent appropriately, according to Jeff Oland, a leader of the Tea Party group.

“We trusted them and let them borrow against 15 years of revenue and they used it to build roads like crazy, leaving too little money for road maintenance,” he said in a statement.

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