Higher taxes for highways?

Good Roads Foundation
Gov. Asa Hutchinson discusses his plans for highways before the Good Roads Foundation Nov. 13.

By Steve Brawner, © 2018 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

In two years, you’ll probably be asked to vote for higher taxes for Arkansas’ highways, for three reasons.

One reason is that highways are clearly underfunded. The Arkansas Department of Transportation has identified $9.3 billion in needs but only $4.5 billion in expected revenues over the next 10 years – numbers confirmed by a legislative audit. That extra $4.8 billion would maintain and improve the nation’s 12th largest highway system, but it would not fund the long-desired I-49 in western Arkansas and I-69 in south Arkansas.

Why the big shortfall? Highways are funded primarily through fuel taxes, which haven’t changed at the federal level since 1993 and in Arkansas since 1999. Neither were indexed to inflation, so as construction costs have risen, revenues have not. Meanwhile, vehicles have become more fuel efficient. Some – maybe someday many – don’t use fuel at all.

This has been the reality for a long time. Scott Bennett, ARDOT’s director, told me he’s made basically the same speech for 15 years.

What’s changed are the second and third reasons you’ll be asked to vote for higher taxes for highways. Continue reading Higher taxes for highways?

Outsiders again can’t overcome political obstacles

By Steve Brawner, © 2018 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Many voters say they want an outsider alternative to Republicans and Democrats, but at the ballot box they reliably select one of the two insiders. Such was again the case this election cycle.

Take, for example, Arkansas’ Libertarians. The party contested all four congressional races and all statewide races, but the governor’s race was the big one. Libertarians hoped their candidate, Mark West, could win 3 percent so they could avoid the legal requirement of collecting 10,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot in 2020.

They didn’t make it. West won 2.9 percent. His 25,753 votes fell 859 short.

West is a pretty good candidate who effectively articulates the Libertarians’ anti-government platform. He ran to the right of Gov. Asa Hutchinson on guns and government health care, which meant there was a population of unhappy conservatives receptive to his views. Hutchinson was certain to win re-election, so they should have felt free to cast their ballots for West.

Some undoubtedly did. He collected 9,434 more votes than the party’s candidate did in 2014. Still, it wasn’t enough. Continue reading Outsiders again can’t overcome political obstacles

Not much suspense at Republican victory party

By Steve Brawner, © 2018 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

The Republican Party of Arkansas’ victory party Tuesday had a crowd, food and beverages, and a rock-and-roll band. One thing it lacked that would have made it a lot more fun: suspense.

The most important statewide race, the one for governor, was never in doubt. The Associated Press declared Gov. Asa Hutchinson the winner almost immediately after the polls closed. He soon gave a brief victory speech, but the cheers were the kind that comes from people who expected to win. He was followed intermittently by other winning statewide candidates greeted by smaller crowds.

Because I had left to cover the Little Rock mayor’s race, I wasn’t present for the victory speech by the only major Republican candidate who might could have lost.

That would be U.S. Rep. French Hill, who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District, where a lot of Democrats live in Little Rock. He won, 52-46 percent. His opponent, Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, was actually leading early in the evening when Pulaski County’s early vote totals were announced. But the polls leading up to the election had shown Hill had a comfortable lead, and the district’s heavily Republican outlying counties came in strong for him. He won Saline County with 68 percent of the vote and Faulkner County with 62 percent.

“Inevitable” would be the word to describe most of the election results. Whether candidates won or lost depended not on how they campaigned but on where they lived. For state and national races, Republicans won just about everywhere, except where Democrats usually win. In House District 22, Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs, won almost twice as many votes as his Democratic opponent despite Gates being arrested for – and admitting to – not paying state taxes. In fact, he didn’t file a tax return from 2004-2017. It didn’t matter. He had an “R” beside his name. Continue reading Not much suspense at Republican victory party

Truth, lies and not-quite lies

By Steve Brawner, © 2018 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

The election is over. The good news is, there will be another one in two years.

That’s the good news? Yep. Elections – annoying, divisive and cacophonous – are one reason we live in a free and prosperous country. We could have been born elsewhere, perhaps North Korea. There, instead of 30-second political ads interrupting our pleasant evenings, our televisions would bombard us with propaganda about the Supreme Leader who is actually keeping us subjugated, impoverished and isolated.

Still, seeing the glass half full doesn’t mean we ignore the empty part. Our politics has flaws, including this: far too many not-quite-lies.

What is a not-quite-lie, and how do you spot it? In politics, look for two types. Continue reading Truth, lies and not-quite lies