Questions To Ask Yourself Before Voting On the Highway Debt Bond Issue November 8th

Highway Bond Plan in 2005 Was Defeated  68% to 32%; Interstate makes up 4% of the state's highway system

Arkansas's total debt already ranks 14 in the nation and 17th per capita

 

Why is the Highway Commission asking for permission to put Arkansas further in debt to repair our interstate highways when we still owe $206.5 million for existing bonds issued through the 1999 highway bond vote, especially with our economy and government being so insecure at this time.  Contrary to many people's concern, Arkansas will receive the same amount of money on a yearly basis as it would if we pay as we go. The current debt payment on the 1999  is $74 million per year ($58 million from federal government and $16 million from AR fuels excise tax, both of  which will continue whether we go in debt or not).    Also according to a legislator, the outstanding balance on 1999 highway bond plan was refinanced in 2010 at a lower interest rate in the amount of $253.2 million and will not be retired until 2014.  The original principal voted for  in 1999 was $575 million (the same amount being requested in 2011) and we still owed $253.2 million in 2010!!

 

Why are citizens not being told that,  "Arkansas’ total debt — counting pension liabilities, which is most of it — is $25 billion, ranking it 14th most in the country and 17th most per capita. "  The nonpartisan group State Budget Solutions recently reported those figures.  See this link for the story by Steve Brawner: "Bring Back Those Orange Barrels" http://www.swtimes.com/columns/steve_brawner/

 

Why is the Highway Department be authorized to issue bonds for about $1 billion in interstate repairs when citizens are voting on a $575 million amount in the ballot.   The Democrat Gazette reported October 31in an article by Noel E. Oman:  Under the proposal voters will consider, the Highway Department would be authorized to issue bonds for about $1 billion in interstate repairs, continuing the program approved by nearly 80 percent of voters in 1999. The bonds will be financed by future federal funds and a 4-cent-per-gallon diesel fuel tax increase that became law when Mike Huckabee was governor.

 

Why would the Highway Commission want to go in debt and spend all those millions on interest and bond fees when that money could go for more improvements.  The interest paid on the 1999 highway bond plan resulted in $264 million in interest (not including the bond fees, etc.).  The lowest figure I have seen the interest reported  for the 1999 highway bond plan was $208 million (that is 36% to 46% interest on the principal of $575 million that could have been applied to the interstate street repairs). You can still read this Arkansas Times story online at this link: http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/do-the-bond-proposals-add-up/Content?oid=862549  Interest rates are lower now, but these bonds can be issued up to December, 2014.  We don't know what  interest rates will be three years from now, and there is no set limit on the interest rates at which the Commission can sell the bonds.

 

Why would the state waste this much money on interest that could be spent on other roads in Arkansas?  Interstate highways make up about 4 percent of the state's highway system, and this highway bond plan can only be used for expenses directed toward interstate highways. None of this money will be spent in Northeast Arkansas because there are no interstates in this area.   This money  wasted on interest ($264 million)  could have been spent on other highway needs across Arkansas.

 

Why did the Highway Commission not plan more carefully so we would not be in such dire need now that we would have to borrow more money before we paid off the last debt?   Is that not sort of like a person taking out a second mortgage on their house? Haven't the people spoken loudly and clearly that we are tired of debt and want the government to restrict their spending  and  get out of debt and be accountable even as families across the nation are having to do. Won't this just lead to revolving debt (sort of like an individual's credit card) and cost tremendous amounts of interest and bond fees? Wouldn't the present time be the time to stop it?  The poorer the state, the more it needs to use its money wisely?

 

If borrowing the money is based on how much Arkansas  will save because of expected future inflation and from money made by investing  the borrowed money as some have contended, then why aren't all the individuals and businesses borrowing and  investing lavishly in stocks and other property now because of the same premise? 

 

Why are members of the Highway Commission touting this as a jobs creation plan just like Obama is presenting his push for a 2nd stimulus bill as a jobs bill?  We do need jobs in Arkansas, but just as at the national level, we don't need them by increasing our debt.

 

Why did the voters in Arkansas reject by 68% to 32% a highway bond plan in a special election in  2005 with the same title as this ballot in 2011 by a 68% to 32%, and why isn't anyone mentioning that vote? It would appear that politicians and the Highway Commission would like to wipe the slate clean of that entire 2005  special election. The story in the Democrat Gazette this week mentioned that the vote in 1999 on almost the same plan as this 2011 highway bond plan passed with about 80% of the vote but made no mention of the huge defeat in 2005. Could it be because the Highway Commission had slipped in language in the ballot that would have taken away the citizens' right to vote on bonds in the future, a right guaranteed in our Arkansas Constitution under Amendment 20?   The language in the ballot would have allowed the Highway Commission to issue revenue bonds for interstate highways and related facilities at any time, as long as the total of the bonds did not exceed $575, a revolving credit card.  Fortunately, this information was brought to the surface a few weeks before the vote in 2005;   and even though almost every Republican and Democratic official and candidate had endorsed the 2005 Highway bond plan, it was soundly defeated.

 

Why would we trust this same bureaucracy and Highway Commission to be looking out for the welfare of  Arkansans now?

 

Why would Governor Beebe call a special election for this vote where there will be a low vote turnout?  

 

Why would we risk allowing some of our money being spent on bikeways, walkways, greenways, etc. by allowing the Highway Commission to get the money in a lump sum where voters would have no control over how it is spent for another decade?  Our vote limiting the amount of money the Highway Commission can borrow is the only control we can exercise over the way the money is spent. See this article for discussion of why the bikeways, walkways, and greenways could be incorporated into the 2011 highway bond plan. http://www.wpaag.org/Highway%20Debt%20Bond%20Ballot%20Text%202011.htm  Here is one of the clues:  US Department of Transportation Secretary has the authority to withhold approval for projects that would negatively impact pedestrians and bicyclists and recommends "Considering walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes." USDOT further says, "Transportation agencies should find ways to make facility improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists during resurfacing and other maintenance projects. (This is called sustainable or green transportation.)

 

Why should we entrust so much money to a five-member unelected Highway Commission.? The  highway bonds are issued by the five-member Highway Commission, a constitutionally independent body whose five members are not elected by the people and are not answerable to anyone who is.    According to Amendment 42, Section 4, to the Arkansas Constitution,   “A Commissioner may be removed by the Governor only for the same causes as apply to other constitutional officers after a hearing which may be reviewed by the Chancery Court for the First District with right of appeal therefrom to the Supreme Court” The difference between highway commissioners and other constitutional officers like the Governor, etc.  is that we don’t vote for highway commissioners; and the Highway Commissioners are appointed to terms of 10 years, longer than other constitutional officers.

 

Unless someone can prove differently, there will be no oversight by the legislature or legislative committee.  The proponents of the bond issue are not being totally honest on this.   Researchers say the  legislative oversight on the Arkansas Highway Commission is limited to the amount of money they have to spend.  If the bond issue passes, then the Commission will have the money set aside and approved  by the vote of Arkansans.  That fact precludes any need for any oversight by the legislature.  And even if the legislature had oversight and could reject certain construction repairs, then the Commission could still borrow the money and issue bonds and could force the hands of legislators.

 

Below is an excerpt from information on the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.  Their information is as simple and factual  as I have found and several figures in this article were taken from their document:  "2011 Arkansas Interstate Highway Bond Financing Question" at this link:  http://ppc.uaex.edu/ballot/FSPPC308.pdf   They simplify and report the views of supporters and opponents on the highway bond issue. Below is a copy of the objections.  You can go to the link and find a list of  supporters' reasons to vote FOR the bond plan.

What do opponents say?

Posted November 2, 2011 by Debbie Pelley at this link:  http://www.wpaag.org/Highway%20bond%20issue%20Why's.htm