DALLAS — Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe will call a statewide election on a proposal to renew the state's existing $575 million Garvee road bond program.
If approved by voters, the bonds would be issued after the program's outstanding bonds mature in August 2014. Approval would not require an increase in the state's diesel tax of 27.8 cents per gallon, 4 cents of which help support Arkansas' current grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds.
The governor's decision to set an election for the extension came after the Arkansas Trucking Association last month withdrew its support for a constitutional amendment that would have raised the tax on diesel fuel by 5 cents per gallon for 10 years as part of a $1.1 billion expansion of the bonds, which in Arkansas are supported by both federal highway grants and state revenue.
The Garvee program was first approved as a constitutional amendment at a statewide election in 2009.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said the governor will put the Garvee bond extension to a statewide vote but has not decided whether to call a special election or wait until the general election in November 2012.
"We don't have an artificial deadline as to when that decision would be made," he said. "We wouldn't be selling those bonds until 2015, after the current debt is paid off."
When the road bond proposal was being considered in the General Assembly earlier this year, lawmakers estimated the cost of a statewide special election at $750,000. The Arkansas Highway Department said the new bonds would have to be issued before Dec. 31, 2015 if voters approve the extension.
A proposed constitutional amendment to increase the sales tax rate by 0.5% to support $1.8 billion of highway bonds is not affected by the withdrawal of the diesel-tax bonds.
That proposal, which would finance a network of four-lane highways, will be on the November 2012 ballot.
The loss of the trucking group's support was a fatal blow to the expanded Garvee plan, said R. Madison Murphy, chairman of the Arkansas Highway Commission and co-chair of Move Arkansas Forward Committee, an advocacy group established to promote the highway bond ballot campaign.
"Any campaign to increase a tax is a challenge," Murphy said. "Although the tax would be temporary and substantially paid by the trucking industry rather than the general public, our committee felt the trucking association's support of a vote at this time was crucial."
Murphy said the bond proceeds and other revenue would give the state $1 billion over the next 10 years for highway maintenance efforts. He said the existing program has financed the rehabilitation of more than 350 miles of interstate highways.
A blue-ribbon panel studying the state's highway finances issued a report earlier this year advocating the renewal of the Garvee program and expanding it, with the additional bonds supported by the diesel tax increase.