(Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)
"Arkansas voters will have an opportunity to vote on two important issues in a special election scheduled for Dec. 13," Gifford said. "Both proposals concern the issuance of bonds. Up for consideration are the Arkansas Higher Education Technology and Facility Improvement Act of 2005 and the Arkansas Interstate Highway Financing Act of 2005."
Present with Gifford was State Highway Commissioner John Ed Regenold who addressed those present about Referred Question One of the special election. Should this initiative pass, it will grant the Highway Commission the authority to purchase bonds to repair and maintain Arkansas' interstates. According to Regenold, the 1999 Interstate Rehabilitation Program allowed the state to "catch up" regarding the condition of its interstates. He contends the passage of Referred Question One will allow for the continuation or extension of that bonding authority to keep the Interstates up to the standards that are needed.
Also present at the meeting was James W. McClain, executive dean for management information technology services.
Gifford, commenting on Referred Question Two which, if passed, will authorize the Department of Higher Education to purchase bonds that will upgrade technology for research and instruction, finance critical maintenance and renovation needs, and build new classrooms and libraries for colleges and universities.
"Neither proposal will require additional or increased taxes, but will give the state permission to reissue current bonds to generate revenue," Gifford said.
She went on to say passage of Referred Question Two will allow for the re-issuance of bonds to upgrade technology for research and instruction, finance critical maintenance and renovation needs and build new classrooms and libraries for Arkansas public colleges and universities. The act further states that Higher Education Bonds at maturity may be used for college tuition at any college or university or for any other purpose.
According to Gifford, ANC could benefit greatly from the passing of Referred Question Two. Gifford indicated should the initiative pass, ANC will receive $2.2 million, which will be used for major renovations on the main campus in Blytheville, the ANC Burdette center and for technology upgrades. A vote of yes on Dec. 13 will also fund the state's participation in the e-Corridor -- a high-speed, national computer network research tool that runs over fiber optic lines. It is 10,000 times faster than DSL or Broadband Internet connections, and all states surrounding Arkansas already have access to it.
The proposal stipulates the total amount of bonds authorized for higher education facility renovations and critical needs will not exceed $250 million. Of that amount, $100 million will be used to refinance existing bonds allocated for higher education, $50 million will go to the 22 two-year institutions and $100 million will be earmarked for distribution to the 11 four-year institutions -- with $10 million of that amount used to connect Arkansas colleges and universities to the e-Corridor.
She pointed out there are maintenance needs.
"The main ANC facility was built in 1980 and the Burdette facility was built in the 1960s," Gifford said. "This is the only way we see in getting this type of money in the long-term future. We are very appreciative of our legislators and what they do but we don't expect to see an increase in funding. If the improvement act passes it will help with critical maintenance needs."
The highway bond issue will allow the State Highway Commission to issue additional bonds up to the $550 million authority that exists now. These bonds would produce funds to be used on interstate repairs in the future, and according to Regenold will reduce the need for redistribution of state funding for other state roads in the future.
"Our department does a great job and is well organized," Regenold said. "There are 16,000 miles of roads in Arkansas. This is not a blank check. There are limits, caps, and restrictions. We are asking only for the authority to have the means for continuing improvement on interstates."
Regenold said the highway commission makes decisions on needs, not on politics.
Gifford encouraged everyone to make an effort to vote. She said early voting for the Dec. 13 ballot will begin Monday.
"These are separate issues on the ballot and neither will raise your taxes," she said.
Frequently asked questions and answer sheets on both issues were distributed to the Lions Club members.
Lion President Tracey Reinhart thanked the guest speakers.
The Manila Lions Club meets at noon on Wednesdays at the Manila Depot Center.