While this is not a traditional election year, Arkansas voters will still be asked to make an important decision at the polls this November. I have set a special election for November 8th asking Arkansans to approve new bonds to pay for improvements to Arkansas's interstate highways. Voting yes for this bond program will not increase any taxes, but will allow us to continue making roads better and safer.
Highways are vital to our infrastructure, both for our citizens and for commerce. In 1999, Arkansas voters overwhelmingly authorized highway bonds to begin transforming our interstate system, which had the reputation as some of the roughest stretches of freeway in the country. That vote created a four-cent tax on diesel fuel, and the revenue from it helped secure bonds and federal funding, which led to more than 350 miles of interstate rehabilitation.
The vote this November would renew this bond program and allow for similar work on another 300 miles of interstate highways. Since it would use the same revenue stream from 1999, no new taxes would be required. If voters reject the measure, taxes would not decrease, as the existing diesel tax would still be dedicated to road funding.
According to the Arkansas Highway Commission, the bonds could fund up to 575 million dollars of new work and support nearly 28,000 jobs. Arkansas voters have recognized that bond programs such as this one are the most efficient way for Arkansas to pay for road construction. This is because they allow us to move forward on large projects very quickly and save money in the long run. In 1999, when the bond program included a new diesel tax, it passed by a four-to-one margin. I am encouraged that it will pass again this time, as there will be no tax increase, and the funding for much-needed maintenance of our roadways will be available.
I called the bond election for this November because, if the voters approve, it will speed up the process of preparing and issuing the bonds and allow us to get this project underway sooner. It's important to note that this bond measure also has broad support, from Democrats and Republicans, from labor groups and business leaders. Waiting until next year, when more contentious political contests will be on the ballot, could weaken strong support for this measure.
An improved interstate system is good for the safety of Arkansas drivers, but it is also vital to our economic-development efforts. It makes our state more accessible for both business and tourism. These bonds will help us pursue those improvements while leaving other highway funding available to help maintain other roads throughout the State.
The widespread, bipartisan support this proposal is attracting is a clear indication that this is the right move for our State. As we move into fall, I urge you to look carefully at this proposal to reauthorize the bond program and repair Arkansas's interstate highways. It benefits all of us.