Thursday, September 15, 2011

Highway Commission Gives to "Recreational Trails"

While the Arkansas Highway Commission insists that it needs voters to approve a $575 million debt issue this November for badly needed road maintenance, records show it has been anything but frugal with existing road monies.  They just announced  $1.8 million dollars in awards to various applicants to be used for "recreational trails."  Recipients include entities that already get plenty of taxpayer dollars, such as the state park system, and public universities.  But even a private bank, Southern Bancorp Capital Partners, was awarded $100,000 of taxpayer money. 

The award raises several questions.  Why is the state highway department, funded by fuel taxes, diverting highway funds to recreational trails?   Not that there is anything wrong with recreational trails, but when people pay at the pump they expect their gasoline tax money to be spent on roads, not recreational trails.

And as long as we are asking questions of our betters, how is it that the Commission has so much money to hand out for non-highway goodies?    The whole political establishment in this state has been asking us lowly citizens to go to the polls November the 8th and vote to load $575 million in new debt on our backs because the Highway Commission just had to have all the road money for the next 15 years right now!   Don't we have badly needed highway maintenance?  Why are they taking money from gasoline taxes and giving it to private banks and state entities that already have their own taxpayer-funded budget for non-highway uses?

One reason our roads are so badly maintained now is that in 1999 we voted for a similar debt program.   Instead of letting them have the money as it comes in, we borrowed against that stream and gave it to them all at once.   And so they spent it all at once.   They spent a lot of it building new roads (almost doubling the miles in the interstate highway system).   They left too little for maintenance for the past ten years, especially since we had to subtract out bond commission fees and interest.   Now they want to do it again.  

The state's Highway Commission system is deeply flawed.  Given a large pile of money all at once, Commissioners have every incentive to get "their" road built before their term expires instead of maintaining existing roads.    The only way to stop them in the short term is to vote "NO" on November the 8th to their debt plan.

For more information on the problems with this plan, and the Highway Commission structure, see this link.

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