According to the Associated Press, Jonathan Barnett was appointed to the commission last Saturday by Gov. Mike Huckabee. Barnett was a member of Huckabee’s 12-member highway council that recommended a $2.3 billion funding plan that included a 3-cent hike in the state diesel tax. Barnett said the plan was a good place to start, but there would have to be some compromise.
“I have some opinions there. I’m not totally locked in,” Barnett said shortly after his appointment. “We’ve got to have a consensus from the Legislature. There’s probably going to be a referendum on the ballot in the next year, and citizens are going to get a chance to be involved in that process.”
As far as tollroads, Barnett said, “I want us to open the door and look at it. I think that’s a good source of revenue.” The trucking industry has declared Arkansas “ground zero” in its fight against putting tolls on existing highways, as allowed in last year’s federal highway bill and proposed by the Arkansas highway commission.
Barnett says the trucking industry will be involved in plans to improve the state’s highways. “I think they’ll come around,” he said. “I think they’re willing to do their part as long as we don’t put them out of business. I want them to succeed. I want them to make a profit. I want them to continue to produce jobs.”
The state Legislature convened this week, and Huckabee said his highway proposal will include a diesel tax. The governor has said he is open to tollroads on new construction, but not on existing highways.