DALLAS - If Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton runs his presidency as he has the statehouse, local government officials in his home state say cities and counties will find a friend in the White House for the first time in years.
"Gov. Clinton has always been good to us," said Sharp County Judge Frank Arnold, who became a county executive in 1978, the year Clinton first became governor. "You're going to see him rebuild the infrastructure of this nation."
Others say that even when the Arkansas Democrat favored legislation that might harm cities or counties, his door and mind were always open.
"He'll hear you out on your arguments," said Donald Zimmerman, executive director of the Arkansas Municipal League. "He has always tried to consider the needs of cities."
Perhaps most critical, officials said, was that coming from one of the nation's smallest states, Clinton understands the financial restrictions on local government and the impact federal mandates have on budgets.
"We're a small state and there is not a lot of revenue to go around," said Brenda Pruitt, a program manager with the Association of Arkansas Counties. "Our dollars have gone up, but our share of the total has gone down. I guess we're like everybody, we'd always like more."
Arkansas continues to share certain general fund and transportation dollars with localities through a process known as turnback revenues, a type of state-level revenue sharing.
However, officials said that early in his tenure, Clinton supported plans to give cities and counties broad abilities to adopt a local option sales tax to fund operations and capital improvements.
Virtually all the state's 488 cities and 75 counties have adopted the tax.
"Without that, local government would not have been able to survive," said David Hausam, a city council member in Bentonville and vice president for public finance at Llama Co., a brokerage firm.
"Nearly everybody has adopted it."
Under the option tax, cities and counties can each seek voter approval to tax up to 2 cents to pay for current expenditures or to back debt. That gives local agencies nearly half the 4.5 cents the state imposes on the sales tax.
As a result, cities like Bentonville draw less than 10% of their budgets from state sources. Hausam said the tax "was aimed at reducing cities' dependence on state revenues."
Officials say that as governor, Clinton has advocated heavy spending on infrastructure for both the state highway system and local projects. Just last year, his administration supported a plan to split an increase in the gas tax with local governments.
"It could mean more than $1 million to some cities," said Len Reininger, assistant vice president at Moody's Investors Service.
While local officials say their governor has supported infrastructure spending, the state has historically spent less on government-funded projects than others.
Joe O'Keefe, a managing director at Standard & Poor's Corp., said the U.S. Commerce Department has reported that states spent an average of $495 per capita on capital projects, while Arkansas spent $229.
"It's possible that their infrastructure needs are not as great as in some of the older urban areas," he said, noting that the state is largely rural.
Still, the President-elect pledged heavy infrastructure spending during his campaign. Clinton said he would approve, $50 billion in annual spending, which is about $20 billion more than current levels, by creating the Rebuild America Fund for roads, high-speed rail, communications, and environmental technology.
"He's never been afraid to spend the money on highways," said Judge Arnold. "Bill Clinton knows that people want roads and need those jobs."