Friday, September 2, 2011

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – The governor has set November 8 as the date of a special election on whether to renew $575 million in bonds to repair about 300 miles of interstate highways.

Voters approved the original interstate bond program in 1999 by an overwhelming majority. Those bond issues have paid for repairs to about 350 miles of interstates. Arkansas has a total of about 650 miles of interstate. The last of those bonds are scheduled to be paid off in August of 2014.

The state Highway and Transportation Department has pledged its share of federal funding to pay off the bonds. Also, it uses revenue from a portion of the state's diesel tax - four cents a gallon - to pay off the bonds.

If voters approve on November 8, the Highway Commission will have authority to renew the bonds for additional repairs to Arkansas interstates. If the proposal is turned down by voters, the four cents per gallon in diesel taxes will still be collected and the state will continue to receive federal funding.

The four cents per gallon in diesel fuel taxes generates about $13.5 million a year in revenue for the state. It generates about $3 million for cities and $3 million for counties to spend on local road improvements.

The 1999 special election to authorize bonds for highway repairs was a milestone in the history of the Arkansas highway department, because it represented a departure from our traditional "pay as you go" method of paying for highway construction. The 1999 interstate program was the first time in 50 years Arkansas had paid for highway repairs with bonds.

The governor said that he set the election for this year, rather than next year, because the 2012 elections will include so many races for elected office and several separate ballot issues. He said he wanted the highway bonds to be the only issue for voters to focus on. When several issues appear on the same ballot, as often happens in general elections, it is easier for voters to get confused.

Electronic Bids

The Highway Department is now set up to accept bids electronically. Its bidding service is called "Bid Express" and it allows contractors to access information about projects and submit bids over the Internet. The Department uses encryption technology to provide the highest level of security possible, so bids remain confidential until they are opened.

Contractors appear to like the new electronic process. The first time it was available, a total of 31 bids were submitted and 17 were submitted electronically. Contractors no longer have to travel to Little Rock to submit a bid.

GED Testing Fees

An international corporation called PearsonVUE administers testing for numerous state agencies. It grades GED tests for the state Career Education Department. Beginning in 2014 Pearson VUE will require that all tests in Arkansas be submitted on computer and graded on computer, resulting in costs of about $100 per test.

Arkansas residents take from 8,000 to 9,000 GED tests a year. We are one of only a handful of states that does not charge students to take a test for a GED. The Career Education Department is working on new rules that would allow for charges for taking the tests, as well as for duplicate copies of GED diplomas. The department receives from 50 to 70 requests a day for a duplicate diploma.

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