Arkansas House Members Vote For Highway Bill

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 96 views 

All four of Arkansas’ U.S. House members voted Tuesday for a $10.8 billion highway bill that would extend the current highway funding mechanism through May 2015 and add extra dollars for the next 10 months by taking funding from other sources over a 10-year period.

The bill would extend MAP-21, the most recent highway funding law, and would shore up extra money for the federal Highway Trust Fund, which the federal government disburses to states for highway projects. The fund is projected to be empty by the end of August because not enough funding has been appropriated to pay for too many projects. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has already put projects on hold in case the Highway Trust Fund runs dry.

The bill, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014, would fund highways for 10 months using a pension smoothing provision allowing employers to delay contributing to pension plans, thus raising their taxable incomes. The bill also would increase customs user fees at ports and would transfer $1 billion funded by fuel taxes to highways from the Leaking Underground Storage Tanks account.

Among the criticisms of the bill is that it provides less than a year’s worth of extra transportation costs using 10 years’ worth of savings from those various provisions. It passed the House, 367-55, with 10 members not voting. A transportation funding bill still has to pass the Senate.

Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., told Talk Business & Politics July 8 that the bill “is drafted to pass, not to make a point.” While the plan is not the long-term funding fix needed to address highway needs, “It looks like it’s responsible, and it looks like it does what it needs to do,” he said.

Scott Bennett, the director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, said today the bill is far from a perfect one.

“We’re about to have our two-year authorization bill expire,” he said, referring to MAP-21. “We typically have five- or six-year bills, and it took them three years to write (that) two-year bill, so that doesn’t really speak well for the direction everything is headed.”

Asked if his department could work with a one-year extension, Bennett replied, “At this point, we could work with a six-month extension. It would keep us operating, but it still doesn’t let us plan for the future. I mean, we’re in the middle of trying to develop our next four-year highway program, and we don’t even know if or how much money we’re going to have starting in October of this year.”