Arkansas Voters May See Another Road Bond in 2010

Thu April 24, 2008 - Southeast Edition
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LITTLE ROCK (AP) Gov. Mike Beebe said he’ll likely ask voters in 2010 to approve another bond program to pay for interstate improvements.

“I anticipate we’ll do that in the very near future, probably in 2010,” Beebe said.

Beebe said 2010 would be the earliest he would consider asking voters to extend an interstate highway bond program they approved in 1999. Beebe said the bonds would be Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle — or GARVEE — bonds, which pledge anticipated federal highway revenue to borrow money for the road repairs.

“We can issue new bonds and continue that program with new interstate construction once those bonds are paid off. ... I anticipate we’ll do that and I support that,” Beebe said at a forum with the Arkansas Policy Foundation March 26. “We’ll have more bonds and more bonded indebtedness for interstates as we pay off the old bonds.”

Voters in June 1999 approved a five-year $1 billion interstate highway reconstruction plan to fix 372 mi. (599 km) of the state’s 589-mi. (948 km) interstate highway system.

Lawmakers last year approved legislation granting the Highway Commission the power to issue up to $575 million in bonds, if approved by voters. The bond legislation, which Beebe signed into law, authorized the same amount of a bond issue rejected by voters in a 2005 election.

But unlike the 2005 proposal backed by former Gov. Mike Huckabee, the new law calls for the commission’s bond authority to expire at the end of 2013. Beebe said he believed limiting the bond authority would make it easier for voters to support his bond measure.

“People rejected that before because they didn’t want to give that ongoing $575 million bonding authority to the highway department without a vote of the people. … I think an approach that does it like we did it the first time stands a good chance of being supported by the people,” Beebe said.

Under the 2005 law, the bonds are repaid through a mixture of federal and state funds.

Beebe said he hasn’t ruled out using money from a proposed hike on the severance tax on natural gas to repay bonds for road repairs. Beebe said a concern bond lawyers may have is the stability of the severance tax revenue, which relies on the market price of the natural gas extracted.

A special session began March 31 to consider raising the severance tax on natural gas for the first time since 1957. Beebe estimates the tax hike would eventually raise $100 million annually to pay for state roads.

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