Half of Arkansans believe the condition of the state’s roads is “a major problem that deserves attention,” but 64% oppose raising motor fuels taxes to address it, according to a poll by Americans for Prosperity.
Forty-five percent strongly oppose a motor fuels tax increase, and half said a legislator’s support for an increase would make them less likely to vote for him or her. The group, which supports smaller government and lower taxes, surveyed 500 voters by phone, 30% of those by cell, Sept. 22-24.
The poll comes as the Governor’s Working Group on Highway Funding is considering ways to increase funding for highways.
Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, a member of the working group, said, “I don’t think these results would surprise anyone in the General Assembly. Arkansans believe that roads and highways are of tremendous importance, and most agree that our roads are in need of attention. However they also believe that they are paying enough already and that state and local authorities need to do more with what we have.”
Voters were asked, “Generally speaking, do you believe that fixing the state’s roads is a crisis that needs to be addressed immediately, a major problem that deserves attention, a minor problem that can be put off, or not that much of a problem?”
In response, 16% said it was a crisis, 50% said it was a major problem, 25% said it was a minor problem, and 8% said it was not that much of a problem.
Respondents then were asked, “Now, as you may know, repairs to Arkansas’ roads and bridges are mostly supported by the state tax paid on gasoline. Would you support or oppose raising the state’s gas tax by ten cents per gallon to help pay for these repairs?”
In response, 45% said they strongly oppose a tax increase, while 19% somewhat oppose one. Another 18% strongly support an increase while 17% somewhat support one. Only 1% didn’t know.
Respondents then were asked, “And, if you learned that your state legislator voted to raise the state’s gas tax by 10 cents a gallon, would you be more likely to support them in the next election, less likely, or would it make no difference in your vote?”
Thirty percent said they would be much less likely, while 20% said they would be somewhat less likely. Thirty-six percent said it would make no difference, while 8% said they would be much more likely to support their legislator and 6% said they would be somewhat more likely.
David Ray, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Arkansas, pointed to the 45% who strongly oppose a tax increase.
“What that tells you is that there’s a lot of intensity beside this issue, and legislators who support a tax increase on gasoline ought to reconsider that idea,” he said.
Rep. Davis has advocated a revenue-neutral approach that would shift funding to highways without increasing taxes overall. Another member of the working group, Craig Douglass of the pro-highway spending Arkansas Good Roads Foundation, has advocated a 10-cent motor fuels tax increase that would be gradually reduced and offset by shifting funding from the sales taxes paid for new and used cars to highways. That money currently goes into state general revenue funding.
Douglass said the poll confirms “that a great majority of Arkansans understand that we have a problem with the conditions of Arkansas’ highways, roads, streets and bridges.” He said increasing motor fuels taxes is a short-term fix because it’s a declining revenue source because vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient.
Ray said money could be found for highways through a variety of mechanisms, including transferring general revenue funds from taxes raised for the sale of transportation-related items.
“We have enough revenue being collected in taxes right now. It’s quite possible that not enough of that money is making its way to the highway department, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to raise taxes to fix the problem,” he said.
The poll also found that 65% of respondents strongly or somewhat approve of the job Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) is doing versus 23% who disapprove. Also, 55% strongly or somewhat approve of the state Legislature’s performance, while 30% disapprove.