Leader Blues

Friday, December 22, 2006

TOP STORY >> Lawyers ready to recover funding

BY JOHN HOFHEIMER

Former Jacksonville Rep. Mike Wilson says he still expects the state Supreme Court to strike down as unconstitutional the whole notion of General Improvement Funds being used by legislators for projects back home and he says he’s already getting calls from lawyers interested in recovering some of the $52 million in GIF funds spent since the last regular session of the Legislature.If successful, the lawyers themselves would be paid for their work in recovering the monies.

NO ROAD WORK

The Supreme Court last week upheld Wilson’s contention that $440,000 in GIF funds appropriated to improve Bigelow arrea roads violated the state constitution, but declined or deferred from ruling on several other area appropriation acts unconstitutional, noting that Circuit Judge Willard A. Proctor had not entered a final order dismissing three appropriations from Wilson’s original suit.

The court said it wasn’t in the business of ruling on lower court decisions until they’re completed.Wilson says he thinks the Court will rule the entire idea of funding local projects with state money unconstitutional as soon as he gets the final order from Proctor, and that he expects them to expedite their final ruling to prevent lawmakers from doling out GIF funds to projects at the end of the session beginning in January.

“It’s plain to me they are ready to knock them all out,” he said.If Wilson is right, Lonoke County might have to refund the $300,000 in GIF funds it spent to repair and remodel the jail and the Carlisle Community Center might have to refund the $300,000 it received as well.

PETITION THIS WEEK

Wilson said he would petition Proctor as early as this week to enter that final order dismissing the Three Cheerleaders Scholarship Fund, the North Pulaski Community Complex and the North Pulaski Fire Department from his suit.

Wilson, a former state representative who is a lawyer himself, said that Proctor had ordered him earlier to add the recipients of those three GIF appropriations to the list of defendants in his suit, but had later agreed to allow Wilson to drop them.
The Three Cheerleaders Scholarship Fund was organized in the honor of three Cabot area cheerleaders who died when the vehicle they were in on state Hwy. 89 pulled into traffic in front of an oncoming truck on Hwy. 5.

LOCAL PROJECTS

Locally, Wilson challenged appropriations for Jacksonville’s Museum of Military History, the senior center, the Reed’s Bridge Preservation Society and toward a new Jacksonville library, saying the GIF appropriations constituted “special and local legislation,” a violation of Amendment 14 of the state Constitution.

State Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, was responsible for much of the $190,000 in GIF funds earmarked for the Jacksonville library. Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim has said several times that loss of the appropriation won’t derail the $2 million plus library—funded by a voter-approved bond issue.

Bond, who sponsored or cosponsored the local GIF appropriations Wilson is trying to block, said last week that he interpreted the Supreme Court Decision Dec. 14 as a signal that it would rule only the Bigelow project unconstitional and was using the lack of Proctor’s final order on the three dropped defendants as an excuse not to rule on the rest.