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
__ 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
__ 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
__ Pay for your problems today. Voters and
travelers are apt to appreciate it.
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
--- 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
--- 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.
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.