A recent poll found a slim majority of Arkansas voters oppose a plan to raise the sales tax rate to finance a $1.8 billion highway construction program.
Voters will decide in November on a constitutional amendment for a 10-year, 0.5% increase in the state’s sales tax.
The revenue will support $1.3 billion of bonds to build a network of four-lane state highways between major cities in the state.
A poll conducted from March 28 to April 1 by Hickman Analytics Inc. found 53% opposed to the road tax proposal and 43% in favor. When told that the bond-financed effort would support 40,000 jobs, the opposition fell to 47% with 50% in favor.
Move Arkansas Forward, which supports the tax plan, said it expects to spend up to $1 million in the campaign.
Craig Douglass, spokesman for the pro-road group, told highway commissioners last week that it will be a tough but winnable battle.
“The issue is a dead heat,” he said at the Arkansas Highway Commission’s monthly session.
“Anytime you can start a campaign for a sales tax where you have a positive feeling in the mid-40s, you are starting off with a heck of a foundation,” Douglass said at the luncheon meeting.
Gov. Mike Beebe’s communications director said the governor will vote for the tax measure but does not intend to campaign in support of the amendment.
“This is something that is a direct referral to the people,” said Matt DeCample. “It’s a new tax that people have the right to decide to vote up or down.”
Lane Kidd, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said the group will not take sides in the campaign.
The association prefers that road projects be financed with transportation-related taxes rather than sales tax revenues, he said, but it will not oppose the amendment.
The state is slated to receive 70% of the revenue from the tax hike, with counties and cities splitting 30% of the revenues.
Voters last year approved an extension of a program that will support $575 million of 12-year bonds with federal grants and diesel-fuel tax revenues. Proceeds are dedicated to repair and maintenance of interstate highways in Arkansas.