LITTLE ROCK — Two members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation on Thursday praised the federal transportation bill that became law this summer but said states also need to invest in their infrastructure with efforts like Arkansas’ proposed half-cent sales tax to fund highway construction.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, visited the headquarters of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce to discuss the two-year transportation reauthorization bill that passed in Congress with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Obama on July 6. Joining them was Alex Hergott, an official with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The new law provides $561 million in fiscal year 2013 and $572 million in fiscal year 2014 for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s administrative expenses and grant programs. It includes provisions aimed at promoting safety, streamlining federal highway programs and shortening the planning and environmental review processes in order to accelerate construction projects.
The law does not include earmarks for specific projects in Arkansas or any other state.
"A lot of people thought that we could never get a highway bill out without an earmark," Griffin said. ‘The last one had 6,300 earmarks, and this one had none. Now some of you will be disappointed in that, but … a lot of you understand that that got out of control."
Boozman said the law will "eliminate some of the bureaucracy, some of the bottlenecks that really do delay things."
As an example, Boozman said that if an environmental impact study has been done for a particular stretch of highway and then the planned right-of-way is enlarged, it would not be necessary under the law to start over with a new impact study.
In November, Arkansas voters will decide whether to raise the state sales tax by half a cent to fund construction of a statewide four-lane highway system. Griffin said Arkansas is wise to seek highway funding at the state level and not simply depend on the federal government.
"If you just rely on the federal government you’re not going to have a lot of certainty," he said. "So states are going to have to figure out how much they want to wait around on the feds and how much they want to take things into their own hands. My experience is that a lot of people who aren’t interested in paying more taxes don’t have a problem investing in roads and infrastructure."
Boozman said taking the issue to voters is "a good thing."
"I think it’s done in the right way. This certainly is not something that’s being crammed down the throat of the people of Arkansas. They’re going to have to decide for themselves," he said.