“I go on the principle that a public debt is a public curse.”
-James Madison, the Father of the Constitution
“We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt”
– Thomas Jefferson
On November the 8th, Arkansans will be asked to go to the polls and give the Arkansas Highway Commission permission to add $575 million of additional debt unto our backs. While they have dropped many hints about what they “could” spend the money on, the bottom line is that the Highway Commission wants us to approve more debt without much if anything in the way of specific commitment as to what the money will be used for. Secure Arkansas stands in opposition to this debt plan.
The reasons behind this decision are …..
1) The state already has a very high number of road miles for its size. The problem is not a lack of road miles; rather it is that the state’s archaic Highway Commission System is not building them in the right places. Why reward a broken system with a giant pile of our money, especially borrowed money?
Our position is that there should be no new bond money given to the Commission until its structure is reformed. Reforms should include making sure that the road money follows the cars; and insuring projects are selected on a more objective basis. We feel that in its current form, too much leeway is given to the personal preferences of a few powerful citizens who get themselves appointed to the Highway Commission.
2) There is a shocking appearance of impropriety on the part of the Chairman of the State Highway Commission in this matter. The group behind the push to approve this additional debt, “Move Arkansas Forward” has received over half of its funding from entities connected to a single man – the Chairman of the Commission which would get to expend these public funds. Almost all of the rest of the money this group has raised is from contractors who stand to rake in piles of taxpayer money should this proposal pass. Hear this special audio report on the issue.
3) There is precedent for using GARVEE bond programs in conjunction with other funding sources to tack uneconomical light-rail and bicycle lane projects onto new highway construction. (See Denver’s “T-REX” for example.) Secure Arkansas opposes any co-mingling of funds or construction costs which would have the effect of diverting money from gasoline and diesel taxes to support light rail and bicycle infrastructure.
Mass transit should not be subsidized by automobile users. Mass transit systems should be built only where the free market justifies their costs. Using money from gasoline taxes to fund projects which incorporate light rail leads to a misallocation of resources. By using government intervention to artificially raise the price of operating an automobile and artificially lowering the perceived cost of mass transit, it has the effect of taxing Americans out of their cars and into mass transit.
Secure Arkansas calls on all citizens of the state to oppose any bond issue unless there is written assurance that no light rail projects will be co-implemented with any highway construction project financed by the bonds.
4) The situation now is very different than it was in 1999 when a similar bond issue was passed by the people, and experience since then has shown that front-loading road repairs leads to poorly maintained roads on the back-end of the cycle.
The Highway Commission exhausted the previous bond issue’s funding in a few years. That left little for road maintenance or construction for the rest of the 15 year cycle, as too much road money was devoted to paying off the bonds- along with money siphoned off for bond sales commission fees and interest. It is no wonder that some of our roads are in such poor condition. Let’s not make the same mistake again. We favor a more balanced and stable approach which is less ambitious in new construction and leaves significant funding available for road maintenance in each of the 15 years under consideration.
It is also important to note that in 1999 most of us felt sure that the Federal government would fulfill its commitment to turn over highway funds to the states, and this was the major revenue source used to pay off these bonds. Given the ongoing fiscal crisis in our federal government, who among us can be certain that five, eight, or ten years from now, the politicians in D.C. will make the highway payments that they say they will today? If D.C. does not send the money they claim they will, Arkansas taxpayers will be on the hook for it, probably necessitating a tax increase when we can least afford it.
In these times of deceptive posturing, many groups and politicians will claim the mantle of liberty and conservatism, even while they encourage people to allow the government to tax more, to borrow more, and to spend more. But conservative is as conservative does. We trust that you will not be fooled by those who may even be fooling themselves about what a “conservative” vote is in regards to this issuance of public debt. We hope that you will join us in taking the advice of the Founders in regards to government debt, especially as it applies to this flawed proposal.
Advisor on Policy and Strategic Planning
P.S. There is an additional 20 minute audio report for those of you who wish to be even more fully informed on this tell-tale issue.