Huckabee to Put Off Highway Bill, Plans Special Session

MARCH 29, 2005 - Posted at 2:16 p.m. CST

LITTLE ROCK, AR - Governor Huckabee says a $1.3 billion bill to improve state highways is being pulled from consideration but will be addressed later in a special legislative session.

Huckabee says the special session would be held within a year from now.

State highways have been funded exclusively by fuel taxes for more than 50 years.  But this session, the state Highway Commission proposed that for the first time state general revenues be used for building highways.  The House was to discuss legislation on the plan Monday but postponed the debate.

The commission plan calls for spending $193 million annually on roads with money from general revenues.  About $149 million of the sum each year, would go to finance a bond issue.  Cities and counties each would get 15 percent of the rest, or about $22 million apiece.  The bond issue would be subject to a public vote.

Supporters said revenues generated by fuel taxes have been flat for years and could decline as fuel prices soar.  They say using general revenues for highways would provide an increasing source of revenue and be a good investment because of the economic potential of opening key cities by building four-lane corridors to the interstate system.

Critics had reservations about diverting general revenue dollars from education, prisons and human services major state services at a time when the Legislature is faced with a court-ordered overhaul of public school facilities that could cost $1.9 billion or more over a decade.

Particularly troublesome to opponents is that the bill makes no provision for making up lost general revenue.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)