Gov. Mike Beebe (D) called for a special election on Nov. 8, 2011 to renew a popular highway bond program aimed at fixing the state’s interstate system.
Beebe said that whether the bond program passes or fails the taxes and revenue on the books to pay for the bonding mechanism will remain.
"The key word here is ‘renewal’," said Beebe in a room surrounded by highway advocates and legislators of both political stripes. "This is not a new tax. If this does not pass, the taxes remain the same. If this does pass, the taxes remain the same."
At the press conference, Beebe was flanked by Democratic Party of Arkansas chairman Will Bond and Republican Party of Arkansas chairman Doyle Webb – both of whom voiced support for the bond measure.
"If nothing else, this ought to be a photo sent to Washington, D.C.," Beebe joked at the beginning of the press conference.
If approved, the bond issue would allow the state to authorize $575 million in bonds for interstate maintenance and repairs. The revenue stream to pay back the bonds would come from GARVEE revenue and an existing four-cent diesel fuel tax. GARVEE stands for "Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle," a pledge of future funds from the federal government for Arkansas highways. By using the anticipated revenue stream for a bond issue, Arkansas highway leaders can put more money on the front end of a road program and get a bigger bang for their buck.
The program is expected to reconstruct nearly 300 miles of Arkansas’ interstates and employ up to 28,000 workers in jobs related to highway construction.
Beebe said the potential $1 million cost of a special election to advocate for the measure would help focus attention on the state’s road needs.
"We wanted to concentrate all of the attention on this that we can," Beebe said. "It is not a divisive issue," he added in reference to the bipartisan support and a host of major business organizations supporting the bonds.
Officials also said that if the bonds are approved in 2011, prep work can be done to allow for a late 2012 issuance of the bonds, which could help start highway work sooner and allow for favorable interest rates.
Supporters of the highway plan are organizing the Move Arkansas Forward Committee, which includes the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Municipal League, the Association of Arkansas Counties, the Arkansas Trucking Association and the Arkansas Good Roads/Transportation Council.
Originally, the GARVEE bond interstate program was passed in 1999. You can view video from today’s press conference courtesy of Talk Business’ Jason Tolbert.