Leader Blues

Monday, April 02, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Surplus trough

With almost $1 billion in surplus funds piled up in the state treasury, you knew that it was not going to be pretty watching lawmakers, the governor and their key constituencies fight over the lagniappe. If you’ve ever slopped a litter of squealing pigs you have a good image. A few will climb into the trough with all four feet.

Gov. Beebe and legislative leaders produced a plan for spending this week and while it could be a lot better, we expected it to be much worse. It still has a grab-bag of some $40 million for projects pushed by lawmakers for their home districts, and we anticipate that Mike Wilson will mark the sparrow’s fall and sue those that clearly violate the constitution’s prohibition against local and special legislation.

Half of the surplus will be dedicated to repairing and modernizing public school facilities, which will be a healthy start on the monumental obligation to provide equal and suitable education, including the physical facilities, for every child in the state.

Thank you, Gov. Beebe, for insisting upon that. He will get some $100 million for highway improvements, $50 million for a rapid-closing fund in case he has a chance to nail down a manufacturer for the state, $44 million to pay back the federal government for former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s bumbling misuse of federal Medicaid funds, a down payment on a cancer research institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and $30 million or more for a risk-capital fund for technology industries.

But there is more, much more, and lots of it of dubious importance to the public welfare: $25 million to build a museum for United States marshals at Fort Smith, $6 million to make improvements to War Memorial Stadium for the big crowds at the two Razorback games each year, and sums for Boys and Girls Clubs and a raft of private projects scattered among the precincts of the 135 senators and representatives. Gov. Beebe holds out the possibility that he could block the release of funds for any of them that he deems to be flatly unconstitutional. We will depend on Mike Wilson’s good legal instincts and persistence to hold him to that.