Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012
Ballot Issues: Sales Tax for Highways, Development Bonds and Medical Marijuana
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LITTLE ROCK - When Arkansas voters go to the polls on November 6 they will not only elect candidates to elected office, they will decide on at least three ballot issues referred by the legislature and by Arkansas citizens.
A high-profile issue is Amendment 1, which was referred by the legislature in the 2011 regular session. If approved by voters it would raise $1.8 billion for highway construction with a half-cent sales tax that would be in place for 10 years and then expire. That revenue would pay off bonds issued to finance improvements to four-lane highways. Also, Amendment 1 would raise about $670 million to be split equally between cities and counties for local road projects.
Supporters of the amendment have raised more than $600,000 for television ads that cite the jobs that would be created during construction and the positive economic impact of wider, safer highways connecting Arkansas cities.
Amendment 2 was also referred by the legislature in 2011 and is supported by business leaders who believe it will promote economic development. It authorizes cities and counties to issue bonds for improvements in blighted or undeveloped areas.
The bonds would be paid off with sales tax revenue derived from the increased business activity generated by the improvements. They are called STAR bonds, for sales tax anticipated revenue.
An important provision in Amendment 2 is that it would authorize cities to issue bonds to pay off the unfunded liabilities of close pension systems for firefighters and police officers. It also allows cities to pay off short term indebtedness from special revenues and not just from its general revenue fund.
The third ballot issue is an initiated act to legalize the growing and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes. Arkansas would be the first state in the South to allow medical marijuana, if voters approve, although possession is still a federal offense.
The District of Columbia and 16 states have legalized or decriminalized medical marijuana, according to a national organization that promotes a change in marijuana laws.
Numerous religious organizations have rallied to work against the measure. They tried to get it stricken from ballots, but the Supreme Court ruled that its title was sufficient.
Government officials say its passage would require many new rules, regulations and fees. Its supporters say marijuana is beneficial to people who suffer from cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS and hepatitis-C. Patients with those diseases would qualify to legally possess marijuana in Arkansas if voters approve the initiated act.
Voters will see two casino amendments on their ballots, but it is likely that votes for and against the amendments will not be counted. After successful legal challenges the state Supreme Court invalidated both measures and at this writing neither casino amendment was valid.
However, this year's ballots were printed before the court's final rulings and the proposed casino amendments will be on them, even though the votes will not be counted.
Another thing to remember is that the company that would have been able to operate casinos under the proposed amendment is pursuing all of its legal options. There is a possibility that they could win an appeal at the 11th hour by persuading the Supreme Court to overturn its prior ruling. Most legal observers think such a result is unlikely.