Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

TOP STORY >>Supreme Court asked to decide Wilson fund suit

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

A Jacksonville businessman is appealing to the state Supreme Court a lower court ruling that allowed local state legislators last session to earmark General Improvement Funds for local projects. The projects include the new Jacksonville library, the Jacksonville Senior Center, the Jacksonville Museum of Military History, the Reed’s Bridge Preservation Society and a Bigelow (Cleburne County) library—about $260,000 in all.

Wilson prevailed in his challenge of a $10,000 earmark for the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club and a $20,000 award to the city of Jacksonville without a specified purpose, but he lost on five other challenges. The Boys and Girls club has appealed that decision, according to Matt DeCample of the state attorney general’s office.

Wilson sued to stop the state from releasing General Improvement Fund money for several projects, saying Amendment 14 of the state Constitution prohibits funding local projects. Wilson argued that allowing state legislators to earmark General Improvement Funds for local projects is “pork” plain and simple.

“If the state is going to simply give money away to anybody,” said Wilson, “that would require a constitutional amendment, a vote by the people.” General Improvement Funds as they now exist began in 1997, so Wilson said he wasn’t bringing home the pork when he was a state representative.

In his arguments a year ago before Circuit Judge Willard Proctor, Wilson maintained that state funding is appropriate only on projects that benefit the entire state, but Proctor, in allowing most of the challenged projects, accepted a broader interpretation of benefiting the state’s residents.

Wilson seeks to overturn Proctor’s ruling, which allowed $190,000 toward the new Esther D. Nixon Library; $50,000 for the Jacksonville Senior Center; $10,000 for the Jacksonville Museum of Military History; $10,000 for the Reed’s Bridge (Civil War) Preservation Society, and $10,000 toward the Bigelow library.

Jacksonville voters in July 2005 approved a one-mill property tax increase to finance $2.5 million in bonds to build the new library. Wilson is representing himself in the appeal and Asheton Carter, of the state attorney general’s office, is defending the ruling of the lower court, DeCample said.

The state Supreme Court has not scheduled any hearings on the appeal and hasn’t said when it would take up the case.
“I will ask them to advance it on the docket,” said Wilson Monday. “It’s a matter of urgent state policy and it ought to be decided before (the General Assembly) convenes and tries to do something again.”

Wilson has petitioned the court to hear oral arguments in the appeal.