Senate Leader Hendren says highway plan forging ahead, confident of UAMS cancer institute funding

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 491 views 

Senate President Pro Temp Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, says a $300 million highway plan will easily move through the State Senate and he’s confident that UAMS will secure the $10-20 million annually needed to achieve National Cancer Institute status.

In an interview on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Hendren said that with a major tax cut plan on the governor’s desk, it’s time to move forward with other session items, including government reorganization, election equipment replacement, and putting forth a major highway plan. Hendren said whether the highway program laid out last week is the best plan for the state or the best plan politically feasible is “in the eye of the beholder.”

“[The] best would be an amazing highway program that costs nothing, but it’s not possible,” he said.

Hutchinson outlined a $300 million highway plan last week that included a permanent passage of a half-cent sales tax for roads, a combination of increased motor fuel and diesel fuel taxes, new registration fees on alternative vehicles, and general revenues largely from new casino taxes. The governor has touted that the plan will allow for a “pay as you go” highway construction and maintenance program and eliminate the need for bond financing.

Hendren said the plan will easily pass the Senate.

“It only requires 18 votes to pass, and we have 22 co-sponsors, so I feel – this is still a lift, any time you’re asking a Republican legislature to pass a bill that includes some hikes in fees and taxes – but again, the fact that we’re starting out with more than enough co-sponsors to pass the bill gives us a good indication that we’re in good position to pass it, and I think we’ll pass it next week,” he said.

“I think there’s a lot of selling points for this to the people of Arkansas. The people of Arkansas understand that highways are not free, and I have got nothing but support from the folks back in northwest Arkansas on a program like this,” Hendren added.

While a bill to designate UAMS as a National Cancer Institute (NCI) has sped through the legislature, the funding mechanism required to provide for that status has not started its legislative journey. Officials believe that a funding stream of $10-$20 million annually must be secured to meet the requirements of NCI status.

Hendren said there are “ongoing” discussions about the NCI funding, including increased tobacco taxes on vaping and e-cigarettes and hiking tobacco taxes on regular cigarette products.

“I am confident that we will find the money. The level of support that that legislation got in the House and the Senate makes it clear that people are going to find the money. Exactly where it comes from we’re still working on. I think we’re close, there’s been a bill filed that gets us about 60%-70% of what’s necessary. Clearly, that’s not enough, and we’re going to continue to work, but I am confident we’ll find the funding to do that.”

You can watch more of Hendren’s full interview below, including his interest in providing more funding for upgrades to county election systems.