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The governor's road plan is a massive public works program. The projects it would launch all over the state would pay decent wages. The plan addresses serious needs. The highway system it would repair and improve benefits the rich and poor alike.

Those factors outweigh a lot of criticisms. Gov. Asa Hutchinson's plan raises taxes on everyone else while his concurrent tax cut reduces the state income tax for the wealthy. The road plan makes a half-cent sales tax permanent when it was due to expire in 2023.

The governor points out he called for and got income tax cuts for poorer Arkansans in the first and second legislative sessions during his tenure. This session is his third. Fair enough. So the question should be why the governor made all these tax cuts a major goal of his administration when he knew major road needs were going unmet.

Allow me to answer my own question. Tax cuts were a major goal of the Hutchinson administration because he is Asa Hutchinson. His outlook on taxes has been clear for decades. Voters knew who they were voting for.

There are cogent arguments the state should pass a road program and should not have cut taxes for other services. There are cogent arguments that vital or desirable state spending is being starved. Those arguments convinced voters in about one in four Arkansas legislative districts to send a Democrat to the Capitol. A little fewer than one in three voters were convinced to vote Democratic in the last governor's election.

At least Hutchinson is one of those rare Republicans who knows how to cut. A Kansas or Oklahoma Republican just lops things off and hopes everything works out all right, then goes into deep denial when they do not. I wish more Republicans like Hutchinson survived in the U.S. Congress. I doubt the federal budget would be running a nearly trillion-dollar annual deficit in a time of prosperity if they had. And no, that is not a backhanded criticism of the current holder of Hutchinson's old House seat, Rep. Steve Womack. Neither Hutchinson nor Womack can stop a stampede by himself.

Elections have consequences. Speaking of that, the proposed sales tax extension in the governor's plan would require a general election vote. "Regnat Populus," as the state motto says. If the people wanted more pre-kindergarten classes, the people would have elected Mike Ross as governor in 2014 or Jared Henderson in 2018.

The governor's decision to run a big income tax cut package while seeking a major road program at the same time appears contradictory. It is, but politics is an art and not a science. Give me an income tax cut and I will give you a road program -- or give me a road program and I will give you an income tax cut. He can use whichever argument might work on whoever needs to vote for it. It still will not work on some lawmakers, but pleasing everybody is never an option.

The trucking industry supports this plan, which includes fuel taxes. That is clear sign of some important consensus building. Also, speaking as a two-time Toyota Prius owner, I cannot argue with the increased fees on hybrids. It is a reasonable make-up for the lower fuel taxes I pay.

Voters approved the building of casinos in the last election. I was against that, but at least much of the money raised from taxes on them would go to fix roads under the governor's plan.

I do not like tying general revenue to any specific purpose, even highways. I prefer flexibility. To put it another way, I prefer the state not paint itself into corners. But highways are a continuing, unquestionably legitimate need. If the state must tie more general revenue to something, they should tie it to something like that.

Here is the sum-up: The plan reflects political reality. Therefore, this plan can pass, although some deals and trade-offs will almost certainly have to be made.

When there are real needs to fill, a good plan that can pass beats a perfect plan that cannot every time.

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Regular readers might be surprised today. The president declared an emergency. I can usually be relied upon to write about anything I perceive as the president stepping out of line.

I thought about changing my topic, then decided against it. Anybody can see this declaration as the blunt, dictatorial power-grab it is. My musings can wait.

Commentary on 02/16/2019

Print Headline: The road forward

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