DALLAS — The Arkansas House on Friday passed a bill calling for a statewide vote on a diesel-fuel tax hike to fund $1.1 billion of bonds for highway efforts.

The 67-to-24 vote sent HB 1902 to the Senate.

The 24 negative votes were all cast by Republicans, but 18 Republicans joined 49 Democrats in approval.

The proposed 5-cent-per-gallon increase would be combined with an existing 4-cent-per-gallon tax and federal highway grants to support up to $1.1 billion of 12-year grant anticipation revenue bonds. The bonds would be issued by the Arkansas Highway Commission.

Voters must approve the proposed increase because the bonds would be considered general obligation debt.

Proceeds would be dedicated to maintenance and construction on interstate highways.

The current state diesel tax of 27.5 cents per gallon includes the 4 cents dedicated to the Garvee bond program. The Garvee tax would expire in 2013 without renewal by voters.

The measure allows the governor, Mike Beebe, to call a special election on the measure, or place it on the November 2012 general election ballot.

House Speaker Robert Moore Jr., D-Arkansas City, said he would prefer a special election on the proposal if it is passed by the Senate. Moore is the sponsor of the legislation.

A special election would cost $750,000, but Moore said the state had $1.2 million set aside for such elections.

Waiting to hold an election in late 2012 would be more expensive, according to Moore.

“We’d end up saving a whole lot of money by going ahead and getting the repairs started and issuing the bonds,” he said. “From the standpoint of needs, we need to do this as quickly as we can.”

Moore’s proposal is part of a two-part effort to generate funds for road projects. The second piece is a proposed constitutional amendment that would raise the sales tax by 0.5% for 10 years to support $1.3 billion of 10-year revenue bonds.

The Legislature is allowed to put three constitutional amendments to voters every two years. House Joint Resolution 1001 would put the sales tax increase on the November 2012 ballot.

The measure, from Rep. Jonathan Barnett, R-Siloam Springs, allocates 70% of the revenues from the tax hike to the Arkansas Department of Highways and Transportation. Cities and counties would share the remainder.

Proceeds from the revenue bonds would be dedicated to construction of a four-lane highway grid connecting the state’s major cities.

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