Experts say that the post-virus world, if we can get to it, will be lived with the application of one of the pandemic's revelations.
A lot more of our work can be
done online from home--as productively, if not more productively--without losing minutes or hours to occupying a gasoline-fueled climate-changing motor vehicle moving over public roads to a designated job place.
You can Zoom your meeting. You can Facebook Live it. You can text your employee, or your boss, or use instant messaging or even old-
You can upload and download and reload. You can get your remuneration direct-deposited. You can send those earnings to Amazon so that it will deliver to your stoop any essential items you needn't transport your physical self to get.
You can live in your desk chair at home, T-shirted and stiff-backed, with your hand on the mouse that clicks unto you the world.
From time to time you might look out the window to your driveway and remember to start that vehicle and run it a minute to keep the battery from dying. That's in case you actually might have to go somewhere, such as the grocery store, except it delivers. Or the doctor, except your regular checkup is now by telemedicine.
So, this fall, amid the virus and emerging transformation, you will be asked as an Arkansas voter to decide on Issue One. It is a proposed constitutional amendment to continue the current half-cent sales tax to improve and maintain roads.
We approved Amendment 91 to impose this half-cent sales tax for 10 years ending in 2023 and pledge it to bonds creating large pots of money with which we've improved our highway system to wide appreciation, except in Little Rock, where a lot of the people don't want the new freeway lanes through downtown that part of the proceeds are set aside for.
They probably want those new lanes even less now. Previously, they cited emerging public transportation options as well as the truism that building a bigger road to ease traffic congestion is folly because, as it happens, if the Highway Department builds lanes, the cars will fill them.
But now there is the factor that, henceforth, we'll be zooming the information highway more than the concrete and blacktop highways.
So, Issue One would re-up the half-cent sales tax, though not for bonds, but to pay as we go. It's about $200 million a year, with 15 percent going to cities and 15 percent to counties.
Do we need to keep paying what we've been paying for roads, considering vehicular transportation seems headed to permanent decline?
Even if that's so, rural Arkansas will remain a sparsely populated farm-to-market economy requiring highway movement on well-maintained surfaces.
And, as a highway booster put it Monday, a bridge will cost the same no matter whether 50 cars or 5,000 cross it in a day.
Just Monday, this newspaper ran an article about the state Highway Commission's contemplation of a $2.3 billion project to build a modern 285-mile east-west connector through the hills across northern Arkansas between the thriving Benton-Washington County corner and the thriving Jonesboro-Paragould corner.
Mouse clicks won't get everything moved that those thriving economies might wish to ship back and forth. Mouse-click purchases merely dispatch a big rig onto pavement.
And, as a highway commissioner suggested, a new four-lane divided highway across the state's northern tier connecting the Missouri bootheel on the east and Oklahoma on the west might take cross-county pressure off Interstate 40 through the state's midsection.
Traditionally, the anti-tax conservative populism of Arkansas has provided an exception for roads, which our rural culture depends on and loves. But we're in a virus-restricted economy that caused Little Rock to pull down a sales-tax proposal.
Thus, we confront a fascinating set of political, economic, and cultural factors.
Maybe it's not either/or. Maybe we're transforming to a virtual economy, but one that still will require indefinitely our existing network of roads.
We're not going to stay home all the time just because we can. People must move about. Rivers must be bridged. A mouse-click won't deliver you to the emergency room--yet.
Bear in mind that Issue One is not a tax increase. It's the same tax as paid now. And you'll be realizing other savings by presumably paying less for fuel, both by reduced usage and reduced price.
That's why the Highway Department needs the reliability and sustainability of a general half-cent sales tax.
Resenting the concrete behemoth that the Highway Department intends to bombard on downtown Little Rock--with money you've already paid--is no reason to punish road travelers generally.
The important tourism economy will remain a matter of physical, not virtual, transportation.
I'll probably vote to keep paying the half-penny, but I'm just one tax-and-spend moderate who likes to click his mouse to get merchandise loaded onto big rigs moving on pavement toward his desk chair.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.