Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Porkmeisters at the trough

The porkmeisters in the legislature continued this week to tinker with a bill to hoodwink the Supreme Court and the state Constitution. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel helpfully suggested a few ways that the bill might be altered so that it was not blatantly unconstitutional — adding an appointee or two by the governor to the little committee that would divide up $50 million or so of tax dollars for little satraps favored by legislators, staggering their terms.

In the end, the purpose will be the same: Voidance of Amendment 14 to the Constitution, which absolutely forbids local and special acts. The legislature a couple of sessions ago began dividing up a sizable number of tax dollars among the 135 members to take back home and spread around among friendly groups. Each legislator was given a quota, and he or she introduced appropriations for local projects until the quota was reached.

Yes, the Supreme Court said, those are local bills and they are unlawful.

Legislative leaders this month came up with a scheme to parcel out the money without an appropriation for each project. There would be one big appropriation for public works, or something, and the lawmakers, instead of filing appropriation bills, would send their requests to a committee appointed by the presiding officers of the Senate and House of Representatives, who would distribute the money. Let the justices find a local bill in that, the scheme’s authors say.

Gov. Beebe seemed to be skeptical of the plan’s legality even after the revisions. He says he is not going to sign any bill for any purpose if he thinks it is unconstitutional. The man is justifying voters’ confidence every day.

Beyond questions about its lawfulness, Beebe has good reason to veto the legislation. It will be a theft of valuable dollars from real state needs, like education and highways.

Although it may not meet the definition of a local act, a Fort Smith Republican — can you call him a conservative? — introduced a bill that perfectly illustrates the waste of state assets. Rep. Jim Medley introduced a bill to spend $25 million of state tax dollars on a museum in his town that would be a tribute to federal marshals.

Local museums, such as the Jacksonville Museum of Military History, are a favorite object of legislative largesse, but Medley can make the claim that his would be statewide and even national in scope and that it would promote tourism for the whole state.

Unless it housed an extravagant tribute to Marshal Rooster Cogburn of Fort Smith, the swashbuckling hero of Buddy Portis’ classic novel “True Grit” and the great movie of the same name that won John Wayne an Oscar, we doubt that a marshal museum will lure them in from around the world. And they are United States marshals, not state troopers. Finding tax support for this boondoggle is a job for, if anybody, the city’s U. S. congressman, John Boozman, not for the legislature.