Monday, February 25, 2008

Highway Signs Say Yield

It has been interesting to watch the manipulation of the media and local governments by the Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives. They are behind the scheme to create a new government bureaucracy to raise taxes and build more highways for the benefit of the trucking industry and a certain major retail distributor.

In one of today's corporate chain newspapers, a reporter named O'Toole tells us that this cabal "of influential business leaders dedicated to regional economic development" wants a "regional mobility authority" that would carry out their "goal to fast-track $1.9 billion worth of road projects." That doesn't mean a nickel for light rail, mass transit, or trails that would promote sustainable transportation for the average citizen; it means big concrete bypass projects around Bella Vista and north of Springdale with future plans for a western "beltway" to move those big trucks even faster. And they want you to have the opportunity to pay higher sales taxes to pay for their dreams.

Even if the residents of our community can be duped into accepting the transportation priorities chosen by the unelected Good Suit Club, there would be better ways to pay for their truckers' speedway. Governor Beebe and Sheffield Nelson are both working on plans to increase the severance tax on natural gas and oil to the same rate paid in Texas and Oklahoma, a revenue source that the energy extracting corporations would pass on to customers in other states where most of these Arkansas natural resources will be distributed and sold. This would increase funding for the state Highway and Transportation by about $60 million per year.

Like all Republican legislators in the famous Northwest Arkansas Something for Nothing Club, Rep. Keven Anderson of Rogers is always saying we need more state funding, but he is never willing to vote to raise the necessary revenue through taxes and pay the piper. He wants more highway dollars for Benton County projects, but he says he is against Beebe's proposal to increase severance taxes. As Chair of the House Revenue and Tax Committee he has a say, and he says “I would first rather explore some other potential revenue streams that we can dedicate to highways.”

Other revenue streams? There are two. One, they could get you to raise local sales taxes on everything, including groceries, to pay for their bypass plans. Two, they could divert certain sales tax revenues on auto parts or new cars, taking those funds away from general revenues for our public schools to subsidize the highway construction frenzy they so desire.

Those are the choices offered for funding new highways: take it from the school children, raise the severance tax on energy extraction, or get citizens to pay more local sales taxes. I think it is already greased, and I expect that our local quorum court is ready to roll over for them and create the Regional Mobility Authority by which they'll collect increased sales taxes. Be watching how your JP bends over and votes.

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