Road tax, term limits amendments pass; Issue 3 fails

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 1,068 views 

Arkansas voters approved a permanent half-cent sales tax to fund highways and local roads and supported a change to state legislative term limits. But they rejected a proposed amendment that would make it harder to amend the state’s Constitution.

According to unofficial results from the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office, voters approved Issue 1, the proposed amendment to extend the state’s half-cent sales tax for highways and roads, 55% to 45%. The amendment will add to the Arkansas Constitution a provision permanently extending a half-cent sales tax that originally was approved by voters in 2012. That tax was set to expire in 2023 but will now continue in perpetuity.

The tax was estimated to provide $205 million annually for state highways and $87 million split between cities and counties. It would not apply to groceries. Legislators also last year raised $95 million for highways and $13 million each for cities and counties through a 6-cent tax increase on diesel fuel, a 3-cent increase on gasoline, an increase in electric and hybrid vehicle registration fees, and casino revenues.

Those measures were all supported by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who made highway funding one of his main issues during his 2018 re-election campaign and who campaigned for Issue 1.

Voters by a count of 55%-45% also approved Issue 2, which would change the state’s legislative term limits. With its passage, state lawmakers would be limited to 12 consecutive years in any combination of service in the House and Senate but then could return to the Legislature after four years out of office. If they serve less than 12 years, they could return after any break.

Lawmakers are now limited to 16 years serving in any combination in the House and Senate, though some senators are eligible for more years if they are serving when district lines change after the U.S. census. They cannot return to office once they reach their limit. If it passes, this would be the third time Arkansas voters have approved a change to the state’s term limits law. In 1992, they passed an amendment that limited House members to three two-year terms and senators to two four-year terms. In 2014, voters approved a wide-ranging “ethics” amendment that extended term limits to 16 years or more.

Voters rejected 44%-56% a proposed constitutional amendment, Issue 3, which would make it harder to amend the state’s Constitution and for Arkansas citizens to pass initiated acts and referenda.

Issue 3 would, among other provisions:
• Increase from 15 to 45 the number of counties where voter signatures must be collected;
• Eliminate the “cure period” that allows citizen groups to collect more signatures if too many are disqualified by the secretary of state;
• Require citizen groups to submit the required number of signatures by Jan. 15 of the election year instead of July;
• Require 60% support for legislators to refer an amendment to voters, rather than the current 50%; and
• Set April 15 as the deadline for filing lawsuits challenging the proposals.