JONESBORO — A coalition of groups with varying agendas, including the Northeast Arkansas Tea Party, has joined forces to fight Issue 1, the proposed permanent half-cent sales tax that would be dedicated to roads.
Led by the Arkansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the coalition also includes Arkansas Community Organization, Arkansas Liberty Coalition, Arkansas Public Policy Panel, Audubon Arkansas, Downtown Little Rock Neighborhood Association and the Garland County Tea Party.
Rayan Norris, state director of Americans for Prosperity, said many of these organizations disagree on other issues.
“We all have different perspectives, and then, once we get outside Issue 1, they get very different,” Norris said during a teleconference. “But we’re approaching this situation as friends and it, hopefully, will have implications about the quality of public discourse and political discourse here in Arkansas. But we can start with this and not only defeat Issue 1, but find common cause and collaborations and compromises as we move forward for our state.”
Iris Stevens of the NEA Tea Party said her organization has been fighting tax increases since 2010, and defeated two proposed measures locally.
“We had pointed out that … Arkansas sales taxes, state and local were some of the highest in the nation, but yet we also had one of the lowest income levels,” Stevens said. “We fluctuate as a rule between 47th and 49th in the nation. And when we have taxes second in the nation for state and local taxes, which affect the middle and lower income levels most. That’s a big problem for the people here in Arkansas.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said that a statewide poll conducted Sept. 19-21 of 800 likely voters showed 69 percent favored the proposed constitutional amendment.
But Stevens said a little more education will change those numbers.
“And as soon as they know what is going on, I think they will also be concerned enough to vote against it,” Stevens said.
The permanent tax would replace a 10-year half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2012 for the road-building Connecting Arkansas Program.
The tax would provide $205 million annually for state highways and $87 million split between cities and counties. It would not apply to groceries. The Arkansas Department of Transportation says the tax costs the average family $8 a month.
Bill Kopsky of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel said the proposed constitutional amendment is bad regressive tax policy.
“This proposal is asking working people to pay for the roads that are primarily hurt by big trucking companies,” Kopsky said. “Most road maintenance costs are driven by big trucks that do damage and not by general consumers driving our light vehicles on the roads, yet this proposal asks general consumers, mostly low and middle income families, to pay the giant share of maintaining and building our road infrastructure.”
Greg Henderson of The Downtown Little Rock neighborhood group opposes the measure because of ArDOT’s past priorities and its refusal to consider alternatives to widening Interstate 30 through the heart of the city. Building the interstate where it did created a racial and economic divide between the haves and have-nots, he said.
Environmental groups said the highway department needs to put more consideration for the roads impact on the environment and devote more money to public transportation and maintaining existing roads.
Don Scheiman of Audubon Arkansas said global warming caused by fossil fuels such as gasoline has made 32 Arkansas bird species climate vulnerable.
“Vote no on Issue 1,” Scheiman said. “Do it for the birds.”
Voters will decide Nov. 3.