Gov. Asa Hutchinson said internal polling he’s conducted shows strong support for passage of the half-cent sales tax for Arkansas highways.
Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Hutchinson said that the proposal to make permanent a half-cent sales tax for roads has backing from Arkansas voters.
“We actually did some polling on that issue before we made the announcement [Friday], and it was about 62% of Arkansans either will vote for or probably vote for Issue 1, which is the extension of the half cent sales tax, and so we were very pleased with that,” he said. “It still indicates, you’ve got to run a campaign because those that probably, you want to make sure they have all the facts and will actually vote for it.”
Hutchinson said the Highway Commission and Arkansas Department of Transportation are developing a map on how to spend the $205 million that the tax would bring in annually. Combined with other revenue options passed in the last legislative session, the roads plan could raise about $300 million annually. The governor, who kicked off the highway plan campaign on Friday, said there will be public hearings on the proposed map, which he expects will include populated and more rural parts of the state.
“That’s important because we want the public to understand what the tentative plan is, but also we want to hear their comments and there could be some adjustments on the priorities based upon that,” Hutchinson said. “Clearly, one thing that’s important is that it’s in every part of the state. We want every part of the state to benefit from this highway plan.”
Hutchinson said Issue 1 will be his highest political priority in 2020, but he expects to involve himself in some capacity in a number of legislative races. With supermajorities in both chambers of the Arkansas General Assembly, Hutchinson can be choosy about his participation. He said he is likely to get involved in some races against Democratic incumbents who have Republican opposition even though those Democrats supported the highway plan, Arkansas Works, and his tax cuts.
“It’s all a matter of degree and the candidates, but they understand that, you know, the Democrats that supported me in so many different ways, they support the Democratic nominee. I’m a Republican, I support the Republican nominee. Now, at the same time, you know, I have a high regard for so many of the Democrats that supported this plan, but I’m a Republican. I’ll be supporting the Republican nominee, but in terms of my campaign efforts, I want to be focused on Issue 1,” he said.
LITTLE ROCK SCHOOL DISTRICT
This past week, tensions rose even higher in Little Rock as the teachers’ union representing LRSD employees went on strike for one day. They have requested “full local control” immediately for the district after nearly five years of state oversight.
Hutchinson said local control could not occur until there is a school board in place.
“It first of all means electing a local school board, which we have set those elections for November of 2020. We’ve got the filing dates all in place, so that starts the process of local control. It starts the process of having an elected school board again,” he said.
He was critical of the teachers and employees who went on strike, but complimented the workers who stayed in classrooms and reported to work in normal fashion. When asked if he is doing all he can to facilitate communication with those dissatisfied with the State Board of Education and his position, Hutchinson said he has worked to listen to many viewpoints.
“I brought in student groups and I met with them, and I wanted to hear from them. You know, I’ve had many occasions to meet with parents, as well, and so there’s a lot of communication and listening that goes on far beyond what,” he said.
“If there are ways that we can improve it, I’d be glad to, but it’s not always just listening to the noisiest. Sometimes it’s listening to the broad variety of people that are concerned about this issue,” Hutchinson added.
After taping on this week’s program, Hutchinson disclosed that he’s considering asking the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission to take a role in facilitating dialogue on the school district issue. That was met with skepticism from Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, an educator and vocal advocate for the teachers’ union. Elliott announced this week that she will challenge U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock.
You can watch Hutchinson’s full interview in the two videos below.