Pet projects strike out

But will leg­is­la­tors keep on bat­ting?

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

For the third time in the past decade, this state’s high­est court has ruled against let­ting leg­is­la­tors use a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar slush fund to pro­mote their po­lit­i­cal re­pute at pub­lic ex­pense. Here’s hop­ing the third time will prove the charm and this sneaky way around the state’s con­sti­tu­tion will have hit a dead end at last.

Ar­ti­cle 5, Sec­tion 29 of that far-sighted doc­u­ment ex­plic­itly says all ap­pro­pri­a­tions must be “dis­tinctly stated.” Yet the more stub­born mem­bers of the leg­isla­tive branch have in­sisted on set­ting up what are called Gen­eral Im­prove­ment Funds whose prin­ci­pal ob­ject would seem to be im­prov­ing only their own po­lit­i­cal sta­tus. Since th­ese boun­ti­ful funds al­low them to claim credit for lo­cal projects.

To cite the state Supreme Court’s lat­est rul­ing against this ne­far­i­ous prac­tice, a rul­ing that was writ­ten by Jus­tice Robin Wynne, this elab­o­rate run-around is un­con­sti­tu­tional on its face. Case con­cluded at last. Let’s just hope it stays con­cluded.

Con­grat­u­la­tions are due Coun­selor Mike Wil­son, Esq., of Jack­sonville, a for­mer state leg­is­la­tor but still a pub­lic ser­vant be­cause he’s fought this bat­tle time af­ter time af­ter time in or­der to pre­serve both the state’s con­sti­tu­tion and the in­tegrity of its leg­isla­tive process. The de­ci­sion by the state’s high­est court re­versed one by a cir­cuit judge in Pu­laski County — the Hon. Chris Pi­azza — and re­manded the case back to the lower court so it could de­cide what to do with what­ever money is left in this Gen­eral Im­prove­ment Fund by now, if any. The next as­sign­ment await­ing the Leg­is­la­ture’s at­ten­tion is to drive a stake through the heart of such a self-serv­ing law to make sure it does not rise from the dead, per­haps in some new but equally of­fen­sive form.

Gover­nor Asa Hutchinson wasted no time in prais­ing the high court’s de­ci­sion. “I am pleased with to­day’s Supreme Court de­ci­sion,” he said, “be­cause it raised con­sti­tu­tional con­cerns over leg­isla­tive use of Gen­eral Im­prove­ment Funds. With the re­cent news about abuses on the use of GIF, I will be sup­port­ive of leg­is­la­tion that will per­ma­nently end the prac­tice.” The gover­nor’s own bud­get this year in­cluded no ap­pro­pri­a­tion for lawyers to (mis)di­rect in this per­verse way. Hooray for him.

“If we ever look at fund­ing projects with sur­plus [money] again,” says the ma­jor­ity leader of the state Sen­ate, Jim Hen­dren, “it needs to be a trans­par­ent process.” Here’s hop­ing the Ledge doesn’t even look at this thor­oughly bad idea ever again; it’s a stand­ing in­vi­ta­tion to waste, fraud and abuse. A much bet­ter ap­proach when state govern­ment finds it­self flush with funds is sim­ply to cut taxes — so We the Peo­ple can de­cide how to spend our money our­selves. Let’s cut out all the mid­dle men and let the peo­ple de­cide how to spend, save and/or in­vest what is, af­ter all, their own money. Reg­nat Pop­u­lus! Let the peo­ple rule — not the politi­cos.

Scott Trot­ter, whose name will be fa­mil­iar to those who fol­low the news about this state’s re­form­ers, has joined the ap­plause for Mike Wil­son’s vic­tory be­fore the state’s high­est court but would go much fur­ther. “Mike Wil­son has won an im­por­tant vic­tory for Arkansas tax­pay­ers,” he notes. “How­ever, I am con­cerned that a fu­ture leg­is­la­ture may seek a path to cir­cum­vent this nar­row rul­ing . . . . For that rea­son, I will urge the gover­nor and leg­is­la­ture to pass a law that not only pro­hibits the prac­tice of in­di­vid­ual leg­is­la­tors’ des­ig­nat­ing the re­cip­i­ent of state funds, but also ex­poses them to a crim­i­nal penalty if they do.”

There. That step might get their at­ten­tion. For the price of lib­erty is not only eter­nal vig­i­lance, but a will­ing­ness to crack down on mis­cre­ants who are caught play­ing games with the peo­ple’s money.

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