Circuit Judge Chip Welch entered his formal order today recognizing the Arkansas Supreme Court’s finding, reversing his earlier decision, that the state could not spend sales tax money on freeway widening projects in Little Rock because they were not four-lane (but six- to 10-lane) highways as the constitutional amendment linked to the sales tax required.
This was pro forma. The judge was going to implement the Supreme Court order as directed.
He formally ruled the spending of money on the 30 Crossing and Interstate 630 projects was an illegal exaction by the Arkansas Department of Transportation. That could mean attorney fees for those who brought the suit.
His order said a special master might be appointed to review financial issues in the case the sides can’t agree. From the order:
This order does NOT get to the question of how the ARDOT will shift money around to replace the almost $500 million it planned to spend from the sales tax on 30 Crossing (the concrete ditch through the heart of Little Rock) or to repay if required, money spent on the completed I-630 widening project in Little Rock. It also had hoped to use this money on a widening project in Saline County, now seemingly illegal as well.
The department has insisted it has plenty of money to shift around. If so, did it really need the NEW highway sales tax increase it got voters to approve in November (encouraged by $2.3 million in ad spending by the highway construction lobby and friends.) Will not some other parts of the state be harmed by the highway’s improvident thinking and lose money they might have realized because it now must go to speed commuters home to suburbs from Little Rock, damaging Little Rock all the while?