Speaker’s Road Plan Faces Senate Obstacles

by Talk Business (roby@aristotle.net) 5 views 

House Speaker Robert Moore’s Herculean task of cobbling together a roads program involving tax increases in the current political climate could face obstacles in the Senate if it passes the House.

We’ve given you a preview of parts of the Speaker’s plan, which could include closing severance tax exemptions, indexing fuel taxes, and a 5-cent diesel fuel tax with some strings attached for the trucking industry. 

Moore’s plan would work in tandem with a voter-referred half-cent sales tax increase for four-lane highways, a measure being guided by House Public Transportation Chair and former highway commissioner Rep. Jonathan Barnett (R-Siloam Springs).

Of course, Senate President Paul Bookout (D-Jonesboro) said before the session started that he was "pretty skeptical" that a highway program addressing the state’s estimated $19 billion in road needs would find wholesale support.

Senate Public Transportation Chair Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock), sensing the anti-tax mood of the public, tells Talk Business that she could support some aspects of the floating proposals, but not all.

"In these economic times, I’m not willing to raise the taxes without the people having some input in them," Chesterfield said on Monday.

She would be in favor of Barnett’s referred measure and she’s open-minded on shifting general revenues to highways as long as existing services are not harmed.

"As long as I’ve been down here, you’ve got to keep an open mind on whatever is available," she said. Gov. Mike Beebe opposes the concept.

As for the 5-cent diesel fuel tax, count Sen. Chesterfield in Bookout’s "skeptical" column.

"It would have to show me that the people would get a lot more in return," she said. "That’s going to be one that’s going to be very difficult for me to support."

You can watch video of her interview short below. Plus, John Brummett with our content partner, the Arkansas News Bureau, has a thoughtful column on the state’s highway situation. You can read his comments here.