LITTLE ROCK — Transportation officials in Arkansas are considering an $8.4 billion funding plan for highway and bridge maintenance. The Arkansas Highway Commission met Wednesday to look at a potential new funding program for lawmakers or voters to consider next year.
The plan would be funded by adding a 6.5 percent excise tax on the wholesale price of fuel and extending a 0.5 percent state sales tax for another 10 years, said Scott Bennett, director of the Transportation Department. Bennett developed the proposal after Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he would “vigorously” oppose using state general revenue for highways, a key factor of previous proposals the commission was considering.
State highway officials have been trying for several years to find a long-term source of highway funding. Officials said the current funding level can’t properly maintain Arkansas’ 16,000-mile (26,000-kilometer) road system. The state gets about $475 million in state revenue annually for highways.
Transportation data show that state highway revenue was 14.4 percent of state general revenue in 1980. It was 6.6 percent of state general revenue in 2016. If highway revenue had kept pace with rising state general revenue, more than $900 million would available every year for highway maintenance and construction, “and we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” Bennett said.
Highway officials are expected to refine Bennett’s proposal before the commission’s February meeting.