Interesting story in the West Memphis Evening Times about finagling by Democratic Sen. Keith Ingram with “his” general improvement fund money.
You know GIF money. It’s legislative pork barrel. A lawsuit by former Rep. Mike Wilson put a stop to the unconstitutional practice of special legislation for local uses, but the legislature came up with a naked ruse. They appropriate much of the surplus to regional planning and development districts. The districts largely distribute the money as directed by legislators.
It appears Sen. Ingram has a beef. As the newspaper wrote it, with some supplied emphasis:
Senator Keith Ingram (DWest Memphis) has pulled his funding from East Arkansas Planning and Development District and transferred it to a planning district in Batesville, in Independence County, with no ties to Crittenden County, to administer.
Ingram, who represents State Senate District 24 (all of Crittenden, as well as portions of Cross, St. Francis, Lee and Phillips counties) asked EAPDD in September to present his request to the regional board to transfer $353,584 of his remaining General Improvement Funds to the White River Planning and Development District
The phrasing emphasized in boldface is nothing but accurate. A pending lawsuit over the use of the planning district as pass-throughs to launder the pork barrel money into a constitutional appearance says that this procedure is a sham in which legislators control handouts to local projects, an unconstitutional expenditure. The money is spent as legislators like Ingram dictate.
Ingram is peeved because the local planning district wanted to charge a 4 percent fee to administer the handling of the money.
Judge Woody Wheeless, who is on the board, said there were two votes taken — one to not approve the transfer, and one to let Ingram move the money to another district.
“It was controversial,” Wheeless said. “There were board members who said ‘no, we’re not going to let him move it.’ What changed their mind was that there were several members who felt it wasn’t going to hurt the district, and that if we didn’t let him move it he was just going to give the employees of EAPDD a hard time.”
A legislator take retribution against a public agency? Say it isn’t so.
There are eight planning and development districts that administer grant money, nominally to support economic development. When it comes to GIF money, that has meant such fine economic projects as a fireworks show in Benton and some warmup suits for some North Little Rock athletes.
I particularly liked this descriptive of the money scheme in the West Memphis Evening Times.
General Improvement Funds are a pool of state money given to legislators for their districts to be used for city and county enhancements as well as for non-profit organizations.
I wish Judge Chris Piazza would take judicial notice of that self-evident fact and bald admission of unconstitutional spending and get on with ruling in Mike Wilson’s favor in the lawsuit challenging the current funding scheme.
Ingram, by the way, said the planning district already gets operational funds and shouldn’t diminish benefits of his pork by taking an additional fee. (He didn’t call it pork, of course.)
A couple of planning and development districts have stopped distributing GIF money while the lawsuit pends and the FBI is also investigating distribution of GIF money in Arkansas. A hearing is set in the case Nov. 1.