EDITORIAL>>How to finance road program

__The legislature is fast approaching the moment when it will most feel the want of the experience and knowledge that flows from seniority, which term limits denies us. It is about to decide how to finance a billion dollars of highway construction, which is as dangerous as an ungraded hairpin curve.
__ One slip can have ruinous consequences.
__ The state Highway Commission has made the case that the state needs a crash construction program on primary highways, which have been neglected the past 10 years while the state devoted most of its road revenues to rebuilding the crumbling interstates.
__ Although it didn't bear a proportionate share of the cost, the interstate transportation industry will soon have streamlined access across Arkansas to markets on the seaboards.
__ People in the small towns and the countryside away from the interstates paid the taxes for the work and bore the neglect obligingly, as far as we can tell. Now they would like their roads fixed.
__ Everyone acknowledges that it will require a bond issue of $1 billion or so, or a pay-as-you-go program that would necessitate taxes too high to contemplate. But how would you pay for such indebtedness?
__ Gov. Huckabee supports the bond issue with as much enthusiasm as he can bring to bear for government spending that is not on the Governor's Mansion or his office.
__ But he wants the lawmakers to propose a tax plan, and they would like for him to take the initiative. No one wants to bear the onus of being identified as the father of a tax.
__ The Highway Commission, mindful that the voters will have to approve any plan at a special election, prefers taking the money from general revenues by, for example, transferring to the highway fund all the tax receipts from the sales of automotive products or by a special sales tax on those items.
__ This would require only a simple majority in the House of Representatives and Senate and could be sold to the voters as a plan that didn't require them to pay more, or much more, in taxes.
__ That plan is simple, politically appealing and wrong. Every dime would come from the education of Arkansas children, which every test, every study and every trial in the courts proves to be inadequate. The state's general revenues, including their public school component, already will be diminished this year and from now on by the loss of two major sources of revenues, the tax on vast inheritances and the 2002 surtax on incomes.
__ The burden would shift to the schools to raise the taxes that indirectly would pay for primary highways. A better way is the traditional way, taxes on highway use. Owing to a quirk in the state Constitution, it will require a 75 percent vote in both houses but that should be politically easy since the voters will be asked at least indirectly to pass judgment themselves on that course when they vote on the bonded debt.
__ Here are a couple of ways to do it. A 4-cent-a-gallon tax on motor fuels would finance the bond issue if the proceeds all went to the debt payments, 5.5 cents if cities and counties were cut in on 30 percent of the receipts as they ordinarily are on pay-as-you-go highway programs.
__ Repealing motor fuels' exemption from the sales tax would produce the money and, unlike the excise tax on fuel, would require only a majority legislative vote.
__ But some of the burden ought to be passed on to other beneficiaries of good highways and the taxes. The legislature should raise the registration fee on heavy trucks, which do grossly disproportionate damage to the highways.
__ The legislature should end the shrinkage allowance for fuel distributors, which unfairly awards them a large bite of taxes that motorists pay.
__ To term-limited legislators, carving $100 million a year out of general revenues and the schools to pay for highways this year may be appealing because it passes the problem along to their successors – something like shifting Social Security taxes out of the trust fund to private brokerage accounts to deal with a shortfall in the trust fund.
__ Pay for your problems today. Voters and travelers are apt to appreciate it.

EDITORIAL>>Legislature still avoids reality

---These must be the best of times in the Wonder State, an age of wisdom and belief, a season of light, a winter and spring of hope. A governor who vows determination to stay with his wife before a throng of thousands is on the throne of Arkansas.
--- The official state organ wastes its editorial pages on paeans to feasting with the great man at the Mansion and his approaching run for president and on lengthy screeds on the perfidy of a female newspaper columnist from the sinful east.
--- The state legislature leisurely debates the morals of loose girls and gay men and searches for unsound doctrine in textbooks. There does indeed appear little to do to maintain the good life except keep Arkansas on the narrow path of righteousness. But we wonder if there is not a very different reality.
--- Every index shows Arkansas children far behind those of other states in educational achievement and health (and prospects for a good life). It has been nearly two and a half years since the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered the state to fix crumbling schools and provide the resources for a sound and equal education.
--- The number of jobless people grows and thousands every quarter give up looking. Middle-class incomes slump. The ranks of the poor expand. The health of Arkansans ranks as the worst in the country, and personal spending on health care rises faster than the national average.
--- The share of Arkansans who have no health insurance approaches 40 percent, and the cost of insurance rises every year more than three times the pace of wages. Gov. Huckabee's role in this crisis is to train each day for the Little Rock marathon. Long-neglected primary and secondary roads crumble. And did we mention that developers are at the Capitol winning permission to poison our water supply?
--- Gov. Huckabee has not weighed in, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, cognizant of the needs of a big advertiser and business ally, urges the waterworks to work things out with these fine men. While the General Assembly and the governor tend to people's moral fiber, spiritual orthodoxy and marital firmness, for which they are constitutionally unequipped, the temporal matters that are their duty lie neglected.
--- The 2005 General Assembly should be starting to wind down, but not a single bill worth the people's money has become law and not one bill addressing the critical problems of the state has even been introduced. While outlining some grand goals, the governor has not proposed a single specific remedy of his own, on the premise that if he did the legislature would surely squash it.
--- Our reading is that lawmakers desperately want help, from any quarter. As soon as the weak are chastened and the infidels are routed, they will be willing to listen.
--- We really believe that.


EDITORIAL>>Kids exempted from execution

___Here for a change is a bit of good news from the legislature.
___ The Senate voted 24-9 Tuesday to exempt juveniles from the death penalty. Gov. Huckabee, the American Civil Liberties Union and conservative Christians in the Senate joined hands to pass this little bill.
___ If the House of Representatives concurs, a stain will be removed from the state's collective conscience and good name. Arkansas thus would join all but a few provinces in the democratic world that do not avenge crime by exacting the death of children.
___ The United States Supreme Court will almost certainly outlaw juvenile executions forever very soon.
___ Even its most conservative justices have been tending in that direction as the public conscience manifests itself more clearly.
___ Arkansas' exemption for juveniles will spur the court to that end. The death penalty itself may be in the final stages as doubts rise about its civilized morality, its practical value as a deterrent and the certainty of guilt in the judicial process.
___ But that is a question for another day. Let us hope that we may soon celebrate an end to the primitive vengeance of killing wayward and disturbed children.