Arkansas road funding bill would amend state constitution
January 21, 2021
Pursuit is underway in the Arkansas Legislature to amend the state’s constitution to free up road funding.
Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Little Rock, is behind the bill that would help get work done on roadways that include Interstate 30.
The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled last fall that sales tax revenue to aid highway work could not be used to cover costs to widen Interstate 30 in central Arkansas. The court said that the Arkansas Department of Transportation cannot use money collected via a 0.5% sales tax for projects beyond four-lane roadways.
The I-30 project, also known as 30 Crossing, would widen the roadway from six lanes to eight or more lanes.
Approved by voters in 2012, Amendment 91 to the state’s constitution specifies that revenue from the 0.5% sales tax could not be used on “state highways and bridges, county roads, bridges and other surface transportation” with more than four lanes.
Despite the language covering the exclusion of roadways with more than four lanes, the state DOT moved forward with plans to apply tax revenue for the 30 Crossing project around downtown Little Rock. The project has a $1 billion price tag.
Court decision on sales tax allocation
The state Supreme Court ruled in October 2020 that Amendment 91 “explicitly specifies” how the tax may be spent.
“The repeated reference to ‘four-lane highways’ and the lack of a specific reference to six-lane interstate highways means the Amendment 91 funds cannot be used for the latter,” the court ruling stated.
The court continued that the term “four-lane highway” appears more than 30 times in the amendment. Additionally, the phrase is “given a specific meaning that is plain and unambiguous.”
Reaction and next steps
Arkansas Highway Commission officials called the court decision “disappointing.”
“This ruling emphasizes now, more than ever, the need for flexibility in funding dedicated to improve the state’s roads and bridges,” a commission statement said.
Johnson’s bill would revise Amendment 91 to remove references to four-lane highways and replace it with multilane highways.
Passage at the statehouse would require two-thirds majority support in each chamber.
The change would free the state DOT to apply a portion of the 0.5% sales tax for the 30 Crossing project.
The bill, SB75, is in the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. LL