Arkansas House Approves $300 Million Highway Funding Plan

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas House approved a plan Monday to raise taxes and tap into expected casino revenue to generate $300 million a year for the state's highways, with a top Republican lawmaker calling the package the last chance to enact permanent fixes for roads.

The majority-Republican House passed legislation to impose a new wholesale tax on fuel that will raise gasoline prices by 3 cents a gallon and diesel by 6 cents a gallon. The measure, which passed by a 71-26 vote, also includes a proposal to tap into at least $35 million in expected revenue from four casinos voters legalized last year. The proposal includes increased registration fees for hybrid and electric vehicles.

"It is gratifying to work with members of the General Assembly who understand the dire need to fund the upkeep of our roads now and into the future," Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement after the vote.

The House also voted 67-30 to ask voters next year to permanently extend a half-cent sales tax for highways. The proposals are aimed at helping close the $478 million in additional annual funding state highway officials say they need for maintenance and improvement. Hutchinson and legislative leaders announced the highway funding planlast month.

"If this doesn't pass, you're not going to get a highway bill and you're going to have to go back home and explain why," House Majority Leader Marcus Richmond said on the floor before the vote.

The proposals faced opposition from Republicans who said they'd prefer the state look at existing revenue rather than raising taxes.

Republican Rep. Julie Mayberry, who opposed the measures, also noted that the half-cent sales tax was promoted to voters as a temporary measure when it was approved in 2012. The tax is set to expire in 2023.

"Promises need to be kept," Mayberry said.

Both measures head to the Senate for final votes.

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