- Associated Press - Sunday, May 8, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Four Arkansas senators say they are working on legislation that would raise the state’s gas and diesel taxes to pay for improving roads.

A special legislative session on highway funding is to begin on May 19. Republican Sens. Bill Sample of Hot Springs, Jimmy Hickey of Texarkana, Ronald Caldwell of Wynne and Greg Standridge of Russellville make up half of the eight-member Senate Transportation, Technology and Legislative Affairs Committee, and Sample is the committee’s chairman.

“Nobody wants to hear about a tax, (but) we … just feel like somebody needs to step up to the plate to correct the problem,” Hickey said.

“I’m sure all of us will take some heat,” Standridge said.

The state gas tax is 21.5 cents per gallon, and the diesel tax is 22.5 cents per gallon, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Sunday (https://bit.ly/1TNZ6lr ). The Department of Finance and Administration says the state collected $442 million in motor fuel taxes in fiscal 2015.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has proposed a highway funding plan that wouldn’t raise taxes. Hutchinson proposed using state surplus funds and reallocating other funds to increase the state’s match for federal highway dollars available this fall.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, a Searcy Republican, said he has encouraged senators who have highway-improvement ideas to start sharing them with other senators as a way to gauge whether there’s support for them.

Hickey said the four senators propose increasing the 21.5-cent gas tax to 26.5 cents per gallon and the 22.5-cent diesel tax to 27.5 cents a gallon to raise about $100 million more for roads in fiscal 2018. He said they haven’t decided when the tax increases would go into effect.

Also, their proposal would increase both fuel taxes by another 3 cents a gallon for fiscal 2019-21 to raise another $60 million a year.

Under their proposal, the tax increases would all expire after four years, Hickey said.

Also as part of their plan, lawmakers would consider putting before voters an initiated act calling for a highway-tax increase that would replace the gas and diesel tax increases before they expire, Hickey said.

The proposal would require that 80 percent of the increased state funds be spent on maintenance for highways and roads, he said.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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