Leader Blues

Friday, January 05, 2007

EDITORIALS>>He's out of here

Let us hope that Gov. Huckabee plans a graceful and gracious exit from office Tuesday, when he hands the reins to Mike Beebe: maybe a solicitous gesture to his critics, a compliment to lawmakers who sometimes did not go along with him, anything to erase the memory of the past five days. The state has seen Mike Huckabee at his worst, petulant, spiteful, imperious — and wrong.

Early in the week, if you remember, the governor announced that he was switching some $2 million of taxes around among state universities to achieve a couple of things that he and the legislature never got around to doing.

He wanted to reward the doctor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who told him that he had diabetes and advised him to diet and exercise by settling some $800,000 on the good doctor for an endowed chair in endocrinology so that he could do more obesity research.

Huckabee also wanted to give about $1.2 million to the medical center for what one day may be a cancer research center, if the state can find the other $125 million or so. By announcing before leaving office that he was providing “seed money,” paltry as it was, for what someday could be a world-class cancer institute, the whole project could one day be his legacy, not some future governor who had to find the real money to do it.

The trouble was that both acts were illegal, as his own chief fiscal adviser, many legislators and higher education officials more or less discreetly advised him once he had made the announcement.

You see, the Constitution says that every dime that every state agency spends must first have an appropriation authorizing that money to be spent for that purpose. Otherwise, bureaucrats could spend your taxes on anything they wanted. Instead, there has to be a law first. The legislature passed a couple of thousand appropriations for the current two-year run and Huckabee signed them, but not one of them was for either of those purposes.

The governor said that no matter what his cabinet and legislators said, he had the power to transfer money from projects that were authorized by appropriation acts to projects that were not.

What he wanted to do was release some $2 million for projects at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and Little Rock that did have appropriations. But when the University of Arkansas system got the money, it was supposed ignore the projects that were to be funded and instead transfer money from some of its accounts to the medical center for the governor’s projects that had no appropriations. In five days, Huckabee never explained how he and the University of Arkansas could do that legally. He just wanted to do it.

Wednesday, the meek and mild-mannered president of the University of Arkansas, B. Alan Sugg, said the governor surely must know what he was doing but that he would really prefer to wait until the legislature passed specific appropriation bills for those purposes so that everyone would be satisfied that it was legal.

Thursday, the governor exploded. If the University of Arkansas does not want the money, he declared, he would give it to his good friend and chief cheerleader, Lu Hardin, the president of the competing University of Central Arkansas at Conway and to another state agency.

That would show the University of Arkansas. UCA had several appropriations that had not been funded. Hardin said he loved getting the windfall, $621,225, at the end of Huckabee’s reign and that he would consult with his staff about how they should spend it. The appropriation for UCA says the money must be spent for maintenance, equipment and library purchases.

Huckabee proceeded to attack poor Dr. Sugg, whom he accused of backpedaling on what he had told the governor privately, and then delivered a personal screed against one of the numerous members of the legislature and its staff who had said money should not be spent in violation of the Constitution and statutes.

Though it had absolutely nothing to do with the university appropriations, Huckabee asked why no one was objecting to Sen. Percy Malone, D-Arkadelphia, doing business with some government agencies. (They had objected, though the arrangements were perfectly legal.)

We half expected the governor to fire his top cabinet officer, Richard Weiss, for daring to suggest publicly that the governor once again did not know what he was doing and for revealing that the governor never asked him in advance about the fund transfers, although for much of the past 20 years that has been Weiss’ job. Only weeks earlier, Weiss had revealed that Huckabee was not telling the truth about a veto that was being disputed in the campaign for governor.

Maybe we should accept that as the governor’s magnanimous gesture. He did not fire the man who had twice pointed out that the emperor has no clothes. At noon Tuesday, Weiss begins plying his trade for the new governor, Mike Beebe, who we assume will have less need for his frankness.