- Associated Press - Friday, March 10, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday he supports an effort to ask voters to raise taxes on fuel and diesel to fund highway improvements, but stopped short of saying whether he’d actively campaign for the initiative next year if lawmakers put it on the ballot.

The Republican governor endorsed a pair of bills heading to the House floor that would ask voters to approve a 20-year bond issue to raise $200 million annually for the state’s roads. The bonds would be repaid by levying the state’s 6.5 percent sales tax on the wholesale price of gasoline and diesel. The tax would only take effect if voters approve the bond issue. The House Public Transportation Committee advanced the measures on Thursday.

“It is my view that if we’re going to have a tax plan, then it should be voted on by the people of Arkansas,” Hutchinson told members of the Political Animals Club. “And that is simply what it says, that we’re going to refer this new highway plan to the people of Arkansas for them to make the decision whether they want to make that a priority, whether they want to have that revenue stream, whether they want to have that bond issue.”

Hutchinson called good highways a key part of the state’s economic development efforts. Arkansas’ highways are primarily funded by fuel and diesel taxes, and highway officials have said the state faces a growing gap in funding. The measures may face an uphill fight in the majority-Republican Legislature, with conservative groups criticizing the proposal to raise fuel taxes. Hutchinson, who is widely expected to seek re-election next year, said it’s too early to say whether he’d campaign for the measure if it reaches the ballot.

“I can’t think of any good arguments against referring to the people an opportunity to vote on a highway plan in a general election. The voters can vote it up or down, but it’s their decision” Hutchinson told reporters.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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