Leader Blues

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Vote on bonds November '08

The state Highway Commission is pondering whether it would be better to put a highway bond issue before the voters at a special election during the next year or at the general election in 2008. That ought to be a no-brainer: Do it at a general election, where perhaps four times as many voters get to have a say.

But the selfish and undemocratic impulse is always to do these things at a quiet special election, where those with a direct pecuniary interest contractors, suppliers, bond dealers and the like will carry more weight. It does not always work. Gov. Mike Huckabee called a special election on the same $575 million bond issue in December 2005 and it was overwhelmingly defeated.

Everyone will have a stake in the election because they pay the taxes that would retire the bonds if the election succeeds. Gov. Beebe and the Highway Commission will score points if they demonstrate confidence in the voters by making it their call and not that of the special interests. You do that at the general election.

Besides, what is the rush? Not one dollar of bonds can be issued until the first of the 1999 bonds that the motor-fuel taxes are supporting will be paid off. That will be in 2010. All the bonds will be retired in 2014. So there is no reason to vote on the bonds until the general election of 2010 or later. The needs and market conditions may change no, they will certainly change before then. The voters ought to be able to consider those conditions when they undertake a public debt of that magnitude.