Arkansas governor launches campaign to keep highway tax

Arkansas News

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, center, speaks at a news conference at the Poultry Federation in Little Rock, Ark., Friday, Nov. 15, 2019 about the campaign to extend a half-cent sales tax for highways. Hutchinson called the effort to keep the tax his top priority among next year’s ballot initiatives. The half-cent tax approved by voters in 2012 is to expire in 2023 unless voters extend it by approving a ballot measure that is part of a highway funding package passed by the Legislature earlier this year. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — (11/16/19) Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the leaders of the state’s top lobbying groups launched a campaign Friday to keep a half-cent sales tax for road needs, with the Republican governor calling the effort his top priority among next year’s ballot initiatives.

Voters approved the half-cent tax in 2012 and it’s set to expire in 2023. The ballot measure permanently extending the tax was part of a highway funding package approved by the Legislature earlier this year. Hutchinson said keeping the tax will help Arkansas’ economy. The proposal has the backing of the state Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Trucking Association and the Poultry Federation.

“I will be campaigning for it, leading the campaign. This is a plan I believe in. We have a lot invested in it,” Hutchinson told reporters at a news conference at the Poultry Federation’s office. “I believe it is foundational to the direction we want to go as a state.”

The group said the measure would continue to provide more than $205 million a year in highway funding.

Hutchinson said the campaign for the measure will need at least $2.5 million, but it’s unclear what organized opposition it will face. The effort to extend the tax drew complaints from some Republicans in the Legislature this year who said the state should instead look at using existing funding for roads.

“There will be opponents who say we ought to just lower the tax. I understand that argument, but clearly the need is so great in Arkansas that it justifies the continuation of that,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said one of the first donors to the campaign was Chad Geisler, who owns a Lonoke flower shop with his wife and makes deliveries throughout the county. Gisler, who says he drives about 120 miles (190 kilometers) a day, donated $100 to the campaign.

“I look at it like this: a $100 donation to get these roads taken care of is better than a $500 deductible or $1,000 deductible or $200 tires,” Geisler said.

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