Saturday, July 11, 2009

On Highways

A blue ribbon committee on highways has decided their job is to drum up support for a tax increase.
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Rep. Mark Martin disagrees with the commission, and a synopsis of his points can be found here. I believe he is right as far as he goes, but I have a few minor comments on the issue of my own.

The Arkansas Highway Commission itself should be scrapped. It has served Arkansans very poorly. It mostly rewards big contributors with a chance to put highways where they think they should go rather than where the people really need them. In other words, politicos can reward those who backed them with determining how a billion dollars a year of public money is spent.

I remember when I lived in El Dorado many years ago. We all wanted a four lane to Little Rock. What we got was a new highway to Warren, because that was where the Commissioner from our area lived. That road does not get two percent of the traffic of the highway to Little Rock, and that road gets less traffic than many of the roads in NWA.

Governor Mike Beebe talked a good talk about how "the money should follow the cars" when he was a candidate, but he has done nothing to back up his words. The State Highway Commission regionalizes the revenue. It drives over-building of highways because every region of the state will demand a new highway in order for ANY region to get one. So an area with great needs has to agree to help build under-used highways in other areas of the state before it can get its own highway built under the current system.

Martin spoke of voters giving up on the current process and going to regional transit authorities. That is, they would vote for funding mechanisms for regional transit authorities but vote against any new schemes to pour more of their dollars into the wasteful ways of the State Highway Commission. That presumes people are educated enough to see what is going on. I want to make it part of my mission to inform them.

We should vote against ANY increase in taxes or change in taxes to increase revenues to the state until the structure of the commission itself is changed to one that does not encourage waste. If we need roads, use regional authorities and build our own. I know that violates what Frederic Bastiat called "the great fiction of government" where everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else. Too bad, that fiction is just that- a fiction. We don't get people from other parts of the state to pay for our roads unless we also build theirs, so no one comes out ahead under the current system and everyone loses because we over-build (except for the highest traffic areas where we under-build).

Our state is something like 9th in the nation in terms of state "highway" miles. That is ridiculous. Many of those highways are about as seldom traveled as a county road- which is what they should be classed as and how they should be funded. We give too big a proportion of our fuel tax dollar to the state and build too many of our road miles as "state" highways.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of my family members was an inspector for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department for several years. When I sked him why our brand new highways were already falling apart, he said that they were by law, literally only able to inspect every so many sections of highway. For example, he could inspect the 8th section, the 16th section, etc., but could not inspect sections 1-7 or sections 9-15 to make sure that they were up to standard. He said that the AHTD was literally only doing up to standard work on the sections that he was allowed to check and the rest of the sections were below standard. This is typical of government work.

11:08 AM, July 11, 2009  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

I wish he or you would call in on the net radio program Tues. night and tell that story.

6:09 PM, July 11, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where I live, there is a road contractor (and regular political contributor/player) who lives in one of the biggest, most expensive homes in town.
Arkansas = 50th in highways; one who builds them lives in a big, expensive home. Something is badly wrong and upside down with this picture. Lots of waste, cronyism, and rascalism.

7:46 PM, July 11, 2009  

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