Since the defeat of the proposed county sales tax on September 13th, I have withheld public comment in order to not be seen as a “sore winner.” However, there have been important developments in the last two weeks regarding the bypass project and several folks in the community have asked me to weigh in. In order to establish a clear path forward, it is important to identify what led to the defeat of the tax:
- The economy. Plain & simple, times are tough and voters (especially in the rural parts of the county) are tired of seeing the price of commodities skyrocket. This was a chance for them to stop an additional 1% increase and they did it.
- The proposal. The proposal that was put forward was flawed. We said this repeatedly in our campaign against the tax and the people said it on September 13th. The county asked for too much money, at a bad time, and in a secretive way—secretive as in placed at a special election, during the county fair, and financed by a ‘ghost committee.
- The lack of transparency. We were told by elected officials that we would “miss a great opportunity” if we did not pass this tax. We were told that the $54 million in state highway money would “go somewhere else” unless we handed over an additional $18 million to the county. I said it then and I will continue to say it: this is simply not true. All of the comments from the state highway department in the paper & at the public meeting in Searcy last week clearly show that the road—north & south halves—will be built. The tax would have simply sped up the process. The south half will be built without any ‘matching funds’—set to begin construction sometime in the next 36 months—and the north half may be built without any matching funds as well. This tax was never about building a road.
- The speed. The money that is needed for the north section bypass is not needed until the south half is completed. This will be many years down the road—more to come on this topic. So why did we have to vote now, and we just could not wait until a regularly scheduled election, when we had more information about the bypass route?
- The uncertainty. Proponents of the tax were unwilling to specify how every penny of the tax money would be spent, but furthermore, they were unwilling to be honest with voters about the fact that the bypass route (north & south halves) is out of their control. Our group expressed concerns that we were being asked to pay for a road that had no definite route. One week after the tax was voted down, the state highway department announced a route. It varies significantly from the route that was being publicized during the election—and many residents are less than pleased with the path of the road.
So where does all of this leave us and where do we go from here? We can have this road built & we can do it without raising taxes. We can have real economic development. We can grow and improve our community. But it will require real leadership & a commitment to fixing these systemic problems that have been plaguing our community for at least a decade.
In the coming days, I will be releasing a series of articles that propose real solutions for fixing the way our city operates.
More to come.
The Arkansas Patriot is a conservative organization dedicated to equipping citizens with the truth, insuring transparent government, and encouraging citizens to question their government boldly. Contact The Patriot at firstname.lastname@example.org