Highway officials criticize Driving Arkansas Forward messaging

by Roby Brock (roby@talkbusiness.net) 844 views 

A statement from the Arkansas Highway Commission declared its neutrality on a proposed casino amendment, but it leveled criticism of the ballot measure’s advertising campaign, which it implied was misleading.

Driving Arkansas Forward is the ballot question committee pushing a constitutional amendment to allow for expanding casino operations at Oaklawn and Southland, while providing for a new casino in Jefferson County and Pope County, if local voters choose to do so. The group is likely to qualify for the November 6 general election, but is awaiting a review of its additionally submitted signatures.

The measure spells out how tax revenue will be collected and distributed. 55% of net casino gaming receipts will be paid to the Arkansas General Revenue Fund; 17.5% to the Arkansas Racing Commission for horse and greyhound racing purses; 8% to the county where a casino is located; and 19.5% to the city or town where a casino is located.

An ad airing statewide on television discusses the poor condition of some Arkansas highways and touts that the taxes from casinos and added tourism can be used to “fix our roads.” The tag line for the commercial says, “Better Roads, More Jobs, Lower Taxes.” A previous version of the proposed amendment stated that the tax revenue would be dedicated in part to a highway fund, but it was altered in a subsequent revision.

On Wednesday (Aug. 29), the Arkansas Highway Commission issued a statement that said it has “no position” on gambling in Arkansas and the voters should decide the ballot measure if it qualifies.

“However, the Commission believes the citizens need to have a clear understanding of the proposal. Specifically, citizens need to understand that the proposal does not direct any of the revenue to be generated from the casinos to our state’s highways, despite what some of the promotional ads are implying,” the Highway Commission statement reads.

“This proposal is being promoted by a group calling itself Driving Arkansas Forward. They continue to use language and promotional materials that are leading people to believe that the proposed amendment would provide much needed new funding for our state’s highways. That is simply not the case. Of the tax revenue estimated to be generated from the casinos, more than half (55%) is being directed to the state’s General Fund. None is being directed to the state’s highway fund… The fact is, the proposed Constitutional amendment regarding casino gambling is not a highway funding proposal,” it stated.

Nate Steel, counsel for Driving Arkansas Forward, responded to the Highway Commission statement, calling it an “unprecedented, unfair and inaccurate” attack.

“This attack on a citizens’ ballot proposal by a state agency is unprecedented, unfair and inaccurate. All of us recognize that our roads need more funding, and we have always made clear this ballot measure would be one part of what should be a larger solution to improving our highways and our economy. When approximately 30% of Arkansans acknowledge regularly leaving the state for casino gaming, Driving Arkansas Forward understands the importance of keeping those tax dollars in Arkansas,” Steel said.

“Driving Arkansas Forward advertisements cite facts and make clear these additional tax revenues could be used for roads and highways, and it is the organization’s primary goal to make sure our policymakers dedicate more money for highways. We believe that if voters pass Issue 4, they will be sending a signal to lawmakers that increased road funding should be a priority for the revenue generated by the amendment,” he added.

“Issue 4 would enable the state to fund roads through economic growth, increased tourism and investing our dollars right here in our own state. We are confident voters recognize that, and we are disappointed the Arkansas Department of Transportation does not,” Steel said.

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