The Arkansas Department of Transportation held a public meeting on Tuesday, February 11th at the Ouachita Center on the campus of the University of Arkansas Rich Mountain in Mena to emphasize the need to maintain the state sales tax on the sale of gasoline. It is set to expire in 2023.
Featured speaker Scott Bennett, Director of ArDOT, advocated a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2020 general election ballot – Issue 1 – that would make the tax permanent. The half-percent sales tax was originally approved by voters in 2012, and was to expire after ten years.
Bennett expressed concerns in Mena about a grim future for Arkansas’ infrastructure if the half-percent sales tax dedicated to transportation is allowed to sunset. Bennett projects the tax will raise about $205 million a year for highways and about $89.6 million to be split between cities and counties.
Approval of the proposed amendment would provide funding for thousands of miles of interstate highways and farm-to-market roads, as well as money to repair and replace deteriorating bridges. Bennett said the measure is needed because highway revenue has remained flat over the past 30 years. “We have had three fuel tax increases since 1983, but people are also buying vehicles that are more fuel-efficient,” Bennett said. “It has kept the revenue flat while prices for construction and repairs have continued to increase.”
Bennett said $10 million could have paid for 200 miles worth of overlay in 1995, but today, it would cover only 54 miles. Bennett said allowing the tax to sunset would mean a 30% reduction in funding.
The November, 2020 ballot proposal, referred to voters by the Legislature, is the second part of Governor Asa Hutchinson’s $300 million highway plan.
The meeting in Mena is one of 12 across the state. Attendees had the opportunity to look at displays, and speak with ArDOT staff