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New Threat: States Robbing From Education to Pay for Highway Expansions

Last week, protesters gathered on the statehouse steps in Little Rock, Arkansas, to oppose a bill that would transfer money from the state's general fund into its highway fund.

The 100 or so protesters -- mainly from the education and social services sectors -- warned that the legislation would transfer $2.3 billion in revenue over 10 years out of classrooms and clinics and into the state Department of Transportation, according to the Arkansas News.

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Arkansas Advocates for Families and Children have dubbed the bill "highway robbery."

It's not just Arkansas. States unwilling to reexamine the way they fund and implement transportation projects are increasingly faced with trade-offs between transportation spending and other priorities. As the federal gas tax continues to stagnate, more and more states are considering extreme measures to shore up transportation budgets -- including robbing funds from education and social services.

States are in a difficult position, says Eric Sundquist of the State Smart Transportation Initiative. "The road lobby is still pushing for more, more," he said. "It's started to dawn on people that this money is being sucked out of state and local treasuries."

Wisconsin has come under fire for much the same reason as Arkansas. During the 2011 budget cycle, Governor Scott Walker was pushing highway expansion projects totaling $400 million. In order to raise the money without raising the gas tax, Walker proposed transferring $140 million from the state's general fund to highway spending.

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