Gov. Asa Hutchinson kicked off the first day of early voting in Jonesboro on Monday (Oct. 19) pushing support for Issue 1. The governor was joined by a host of elected and business officials that touted the proposed constitutional amendment that would create a permanent half-cent sales tax to fund highway projects.
Jonesboro was the first stop in a five-city day tour for Hutchinson. The governor said this measure will have more impact on the future of the state than any other on the ballot this year. The governor also made campaign stops in Harrison, Rogers and El Dorado and was scheduled to finish the day in North Little Rock.
“Get out and vote … vote for Issue One,” he said to a crowd at the Jonesboro Municipal Airport. “Vote for roads … it will define the direction of Arkansas for decades to come.”
Opponents of the measure point to the fact that it would make the tax a permanent part of the state’s constitution. Hutchinson said it was the only way the Arkansas Legislature could allow the citizens to vote on the amendment. Voters in the future can make changes to it, he added.
Arkansas Highway Commissioner Alec Farmer, a Northeast Arkansas native, told the crowd the region could lose millions of dollars in road funding if the amendment fails. Craighead County would lose $2.781 million in highway funding each year and Jonesboro would lose $1.567 million. If it passes, it will have a multi-billion dollar impact on the state’s economy during the next several years, he added.
Craighead County Judge Marvin Day said if it fails the county would lose about 20% of its highway budget and the city would lose about 30%.
“This truly is an investment in our future,” Farmer said.
The measure is seemingly popular in the Natural State. A recent Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll found that 59% of likely voters in the state support the measure, while 31% oppose it. About 10% were unsure.
Paragould Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Allison Hestand noted that Greene County, the second largest county in the region, would also face significant deficits if it fails. The county would lose $1.242 million in funding and the largest city in the county, Paragould, would lose $608,599 annually.
Passage would mean that up to 85 miles of Greene County roads could be resurfaced in the coming years and it would create jobs, she said.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, another Northeast Arkansas native, told the crowd she annually travels to all 75 counties in the state and a good roads system is vital for economic growth and safety. There are many conservative Republicans that will cast a weary eye at supporting a tax, but the benefits of this one cannot be ignored, she said.
“I’m a conservative Republican … this is not a new tax,” she said. “The people in Arkansas want good roads.”