Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

SAT 4-5-6 EDITORIAL >> GIF lawsuit: Whatís next

Having ruled last year that state public schools are receiving inadequate funding ó thus forcing the governor to call a special session next week to redress the problem ó the state Supreme Court could soon address the thorny issue of General Improvement Funds, which legislators use for pet projects in their districts.

Former state Rep. Mike Wilson has challenged the practice in circuit court and has killed funding for at least two Jacksonville projects, although the lower court has approved most of the others. Both Wilson and the city will take their case to the high court for their own reasons: Wilson thinks General Improvement Funds are nothing but pork and he doesnít want the Legislature to fund any local projects, while the city thinks it should get the money for all the projects passed in the Legislature.

Throwing caution to the wind, Wilson is representing himself in this fight ó never mind the adage that only a fool would have himself for a client. Judge Willard Proctor has found in Wilsonís favor in just two challenges and has overwhelmingly approved the other projects.

The judge has cut off funding for two local projects ó $20,000 for the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club and $20,000 for the city for unspecified projects.

But the court has approved all the other projects Wilson had challenged, including $190,000 for a new Jacksonville Library, the Civil War-era Reedís Bridge Preservation Society and the Jacksonville Military Museum, which received $10,000 each, as well as $400,000 for roads in Bigelow and $50,000 for a library in Cleburne County, of all places.

Among other local projects funded are the Jack-sonville Senior Center, the North Pulaski Community Complex, the North Pulaski Volunteer Fire Department and the scholarship fund created in honor of the three Sylvan Hills cheerleaders killed in a truck-car crash at the intersection of Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 89.

Wilson had never sought to stop these funds, and they were added to the suits only at the insistence of Judge Willard Proctor, who decided on the Wilson case. The former representative will not be alone in court: While heís fighting to stop funding for the Reedís Bridge society and the military museum, his home town will argue before the high court to keep funding for the senior center and for the unspecified city projects.

Sure, Wilson has an image problem when he fights to keep money from children and book lovers of all ages, but, we, too, have argued in the past against pork-barrel projects when the general welfare, such as fair funding of schools, is overlooked.
Still, it would not surprise us if the Supreme Court allowed General Improvement Funds that donít exclusively benefit local communities, such as roads that anybody can use, or military museums that all Arkansans can visit.

Even state Rep. Will Bond, who proposed funding most of the projects that Wilson attacked, says the process needs revamping and that the governor should provide the leadership on the issue.

If Wilson prevails, look for other Arkansas residents to challenge GIF funding either on principle or just because they donít like the projects.

We hope the issue will be settled before the 86th General Assembly convenes in January. In the meantime, could somebody donate $10,000 to the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club so that no child is left behind?