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Funding State's Highways Called Legislative Priority.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday he believes it's possible to find consensus for raising additional money for the state's highways, but he stopped short of endorsing a specific plan yet to do so.

Hutchinson, a Republican who was re-elected earlier this month, said a new highway funding plan is a priority when lawmakers return to the Capitol in January for the legislative session. He said any highway funding plan will need to have consensus among lawmakers and industry groups, as well as support from the public.

"It might take some time. It might not be before the legislative session begins," Hutchinson told reporters. "But we all know what the end goal is and there's an incredible amount of support for it in the public and the industry and mayors and counties. But the Legislature has got to figure out the exact way to fund the highway program."

Hutchinson spoke at the annual meeting of the Good Roads Foundation, which has called for additional funding for the state's highways. Arkansas officials say the state highway system needs $478 million in additional funding a year just to meet its current maintenance and improvement needs.

Recent efforts to raise more money for Arkansas highways have stalled. Lawmakers last year rejected a proposal to put a 20-year bond issue on the ballot and potentially raise $200 million annually for the state's highways.

The measure failed when some Republican lawmakers opposed an accompanying bill to raise taxes on gas and diesel to pay for the bonds. The state Highway Commission in February dropped an effort to try to put its own highway funding plan on this year's ballot.

Hutchinson, who has opposed past efforts to tap into general revenue such as taxes from vehicle sales, again expressed resistance to the idea given other budget needs. Hutchinson said a plan could include extending the half-cent sales tax voters approved in 2012 for highways. That tax expires in 2023.

--The Associated Press

Caption: Gov. Asa Hutchinson presented his budget for the next biennium to legislators. [ARKANSAS GOVERNOR'S OFFICE/YOUTUBE]

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Title Annotation:Government
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 19, 2018
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