Leader Blues

Monday, February 26, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Another ruse for local funds

The ever ingenious and disingenuous state Sen. Bob Johnson of Bigelow has come up with another ruse to skirt the state Constitutionís ban on local and special legislation. Johnson may indeed have found a way that will let the courts wink at legislatorsí pork-barrel projects. Gov. Beebe finds this one acceptable, which should be no surprise since it will give him the ultimate power to determine where the pork will go.

Gone is the direct approach where each lawmaker introduces a spate of bills earmarking state tax funds for small projects in his district. Each legislator had a quota. The Supreme Court last year declared it patently illegal. A proposal to create a small committee appointed by the speaker of the House and president pro tempore of the Senate that would divide the money among proposals submitted to it by the legislators collapsed this week when Beebe said it still had constitutional problems.

Johnsonís latest plan is simply to appropriate sizable sums to state agencies for general improvements. Lawmakers then would send their projects to the agencies, which would decide which ones to fund. Theoretically, the executive branch would administer the funds, as the Constitution contemplates, and lawmakers could still tell groups back home that they landed the money. The governor, who controls the state agencies, could claim some political chips, too. And he could even deny some or all the projects.

The constitutional separation-of-powers issue, which bothered Beebe, will be solved, at least theoretically, and as for the prohibition against local legislation, well, the courts will have a harder time declaring what they know is an evasion of the Constitution to be an evasion of the Constitution. At least you can hope that the governorís discretion will include a consideration of the public interest and the taxpayersí.