The Democrat-Gazette reported this morning that legislators are greedily eying a state surplus in the $100 million range for their pet projects. A few quick thoughts on that and a hypocrite of the day nomination:
1) $100 million isn’t a lot, percentage wise, in a $5 billion budget.
2) Gov. Mike Beebe is undoubtedly right in conservatively expressing a preference to hold some of the money back.
3) Statewide projects are preferable to local pork.
In other words, please no General Improvement Fund pork barreling with this money. Just yesterday, I received a stack of all the little pork projects directed to Central Arkansas legislators through the local planning and development district from the 2013 legislative sessions. The stack would choke a rhino. This is the sham process by which legislators found a way around Mike Wilson’s successful lawsuit challenging surplus allocations for local projects as unconstitutional local legislation. Now, the money for rodeos, the garden club and such goes in block appropriations to the likes of the planning districts. But everybody understands that individual legislators get to direct how the money is spent. at that level. Remember Jeremy Hutchinson’s direction of $5,000 to a fireworks show in Benton? Or Mark Lowery’s recent direction of state cash to a charter school in his district? These are just a couple of dozens of pure local pork barreling that tramples on the spirit, if not the law, of Wilson’s Supreme Court precedent. Please, leave it alone for year. If you take a local paper, you’ll eventually see your legislator — often a budget hawk Republican — proudly appearing in a grip-and-grin photo of a pork (check) presentation.
The D-G reporting earns Sen. Bart Hester of yellow-dog Republican Northwest Arkansas, an avowed fiscal conservative, a Hypocrite of the Day citation:
Hester said he requested $10 million in surplus funds through the state Economic Development Commission.
“If we are going to be doling out money to everybody, I need something done in my district, too,” he said.
He’d like the money to benefit Bethel Heights, Cave Springs, Elm Springs, Lowell and Tontitown, he said.
Ideally,the entire surplus would be socked away, Hester said.
“The reality is I don’t want to fund any of it. Whenever I started seeing all these requests come in for special projects, I have five small cities that need to hook onto our regional sewer plant and the rough estimate was $10 million. If we all got our hands out, then we’ll send some back to Northwest Arkansas, too,” Hester said.
Poor folks in need of insurance? Hester has no time or money for them. If local people need sewers shouldn’t they pay for it themselves, just like those deadbeat poor people with hands out for insurance coverage? It gets better.. Hester reportedly hopes to make a run for Congress in two years if dominoes fall right. There he could add lots of digits to his budget hypocrisy.