Plaintiffs in the lawsuit that successfully challenged the Arkansas Department of Transportation spending of a sales tax on the expansion of existing freeways have broadened the complaint, now before a circuit court in Pulaski County.
Neighborhood associations and others filed the public interest lawsuit challenging spending of a temporary state sales tax on widening Interstate 30 and 630 because the constitutional amendment enabling the tax said the money was supposed to go only to build four-lane freeways, not expand existing ones. They lost at the circuit level, but the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed the decision and sent it back to Judge Chip Welch.
He has the case now and is hearing arguments about how much the state has spent; how it will repay money spent illegally from the funds, and other issues. Other pending legal action attempts to get the state to explain how it will pay for the billion-dollar 30 Crossing project through Little Rock and the already-completed I-630 widening project after losing access to a half-billion or so it had expected from sales tax dollars. The state has yet to explain how it can simply use other money at the same time it has proclaimed the necessity of the sales tax for these and other widening projects. A federal lawsuit also seeks to stop the 30 Crossing work for lack of an environmental impact statement.
Richard Mays, the lawyer in the public interest lawsuit, has now amended the complaint with some significant added requests.
It restates a claim that the sales tax money should not be spent on highway projects of greater than four lanes and seeks a declaratory judgment on that. New requests for the court:
- Require repayment of money already spent illegally.
- Decide whether the permanent sales tax approved by voters in November may be used to build or expand highways of more than four lanes.
The second point is particularly important. The new amendment didn’t specifically allow a broader interpretation of spending of sales tax money on I-30. May what has been described as a continuation of the temporary tax, which could NOT be spent on the project, now be spent on the project?
Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation is moving as fast as it can to create a 30 Crossing fait accompli by tearing up as much of the existing roadway as possible so as to put sufficient construction in place before final court rulings to make them moot. The federal district court has been helpful in that regard on both the I-630 and I-30 projects. The city of Little Rock and motorists will pay the price for years to come regardless.