Shell Game on Highways, Obamacare, and Issue One
Our state highway system is broken. The massive congestion in northwest Arkansas (to name one place) is either evidence that 1) we are not putting enough money into the system, or 2) our system is not putting those dollars in the right places and therefore needs to be changed, or 3) both. Since we are already from 12th to 17th (depending on how you count it) among states in highway miles but 34th among states in our tax base (GDP) to pay for highway miles and 29th in area, I'd say number two is the most likely possibility, with number three the next most likely. The taxpayers of this state have already paid for plenty of highway miles, they just aren't where the cars are. Obviously, our system of allocating highway dollars is broken and ought to be fixed before pouring any more money into the system.
Advocates of the current system have often floated the excuse that the reason for our excess highway miles was a one-time bill that allowed county judges to turn over a dozen miles of county road over to the state. They claim this artificially inflates our state highway numbers. You should be insulted, as I have been, when an advocate for the current good-ole-boy system tries this fun fact on you. Seventy-five counties times twelve miles equals 900 extra miles. This is less than one half of one percent of our total highway miles. If you took those miles off it would not drop us even one spot on the rankings of states by number of highway miles that I linked to above.
Now with ballot issue one, highway commission advocates (as opposed to highway or taxpayer advocates) are asking for a half cent sales tax increase on most items written into our constitution for the next decade. It would of course, be used to fund a bond issue because we could not possibly have a tax increase without the bond dealers and holders getting a piece of the taxpayer action. Betterspendingfirst.org is a group of activists, officeholders, and candidates who have come together to oppose the tax increase on the November ballot.
The thing is, the state already has a standing Blue Ribbon Commission on highway funding, and not even they recommended a tax increase to pay for needed improvements. They advised using existing general revenues to pay for the job. This commission was as bi-partisan (not the same thing as non-partisan I am afraid) as they come. It was chaired by El-Dorado Republicrat John Lowery Jr. Seriously, the guy was chairman of the Republican County Committee before he ran for the state legislature as a Democrat. That ought to give true believers on both sides a bit of pause and some insight on how things really work in this state, but that's another article. The point is, they saw that the state currently had the money. Sales taxes for vehicle sales for example, could very properly have been sent from general revenues to highways. They looked at the numbers and saw that the state could afford it.
But Governor Beebe did not want to do it that way. Apparently Beebe has other plans for what appears to be another surplus in revenues. You may recall that when he got in office he very quickly blew through hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus. Now let's see.....what other big ticket items might the Governor be saving that surplus for? Could it be, Obamacare? Why yes, that would make sense. Governor Mike Beebe disregarded the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission's advice to use existing revenues on highways because he wants to spend the money implementing Obamacare in Arkansas. That's a theory that fits perfectly with the facts. There is also a history of state government, even pre-Beebe, demanding more from the taxpayers for something when they had the money for it all along.
Now some of our more gullible readers might protest "but the federal government has promised to pay for all of the expansion of Medicaid for three years and 90% of the cost after that." Sure they have, but Washington has gone mad and the ruling class is delusional. They have no money with which they can pay for these outlandish promises. You should ask a Native American what a Potomac Promise is worth because we are all Amerindians now.
The Democrats in the Legislature would not let SB709 pass. It was a bill that would have forced the state executive to calculate how much it would cost to implement Obamacare in the state before any such implementation could proceed. Like fish headed for bait, the Democrats rejected the idea of examining what costs might be hidden in this "free money". Lucky for us, the Heritage Foundation has done some rough calculations for all states. The costs of implementing Obamacare vary depending on the degree to which Washington breaks its promises, but even if it keeps them Beebe is going to have to come up with over 140 million extra dollars. The figure is more likely to be over $500 million.
I view this as just another reason to vote against ballot issue one, the sales tax increase. We already have the money for highways within current taxpayer revenues. The Governor and the Blue Ribbon Commission on highways already knows that we have the money, the Governor just wants to spend it on something else. I suspect the biggest part of that something else is implementing Obamacare in Arkansas. So voting "no" on this tax is, in an indirect way, a vote against funding Obamacare in Arkansas.