Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

TOP STORY > >Wilson: Don’t break law on local funding

Leader senior staff writer

State Sen. Gene Jeffress’ attempt to direct $100,000 to the boys and girls clubs in his home district is déjà vu all over again, according to former state Rep. Mike Wilson of Jacksonville.

Wilson Tuesday wouldn’t rule out returning to court if the state Athletic Commission re-scinds its earlier action splitting the money among all 33 boys and girls clubs, and instead directs the money to the two clubs in Jeffress’ home district.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Wilson said.

Saying that lawmakers’ habit of earmarking funds for pet projects, no matter how worthy, amounted to pork-barrel politics and violated the 14th Amendment of the state Constitution, Wilson sued the state and the general assembly in 2005.
In December, 2006, the state Supreme Court upheld Wilson’s contention.

During the last legislative session, Jeffress directed the money to the state Athletic Commission, hoping it would be passed through to the two clubs in his district.

Now Jeffress, a Louann Dem-ocrat, has asked the commission to rescind its action and make the money available to the clubs in El Dorado and Camden.

“It was a roundabout attempt to direct funds to somebody’s local institution,” Wilson said. “The court won’t stand for that.”
Upon learning of Jeffress’ efforts, Wilson fired off a letter to the Athletic Commission advising it to get an attorney general’s opinion before complying with the senator’s wish. Wilson said he also sent a copy of his letter to Gov. Mike Beebe.

Asked about the timetable for an attorney general’s opinion on the matter, spokesman Gabe Holmstrom said, “They have not submitted a request yet,”

The $100,000 Jeffress directed to the state Athletic Commission was part of the $100 million that state legislators directed in projects during the 2007 session.

Of that, about $55 million was for state highway roadwork, $20 million each for the Senate and the House to appropriate and $5 million for use at the governor’s discretion.

Wilson filed his suit after lawmakers directed $52 million worth of general improvement funds to home district projects such as improvements to roads, highways, senior centers and jails.

Locally, the money for projects he challenged included $190,000 toward the new Esther D. Nixon Library; $50,000 for the Jacksonville Senior Center; $10,000 for the Jacksonville Museum of Military History; $10,000 for the Reed’s Bridge (Civil War) Preservation Society and $10,000 toward the Bigelow library.

State Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, was responsible for much of that money. It was eventually disallowed by the state Supreme Court, which agreed with Wilson’s contention that the GIF appropriations constituted “special and local legislation,” a violation of Amendment 14 of the state Constitution.

Wilson said he supported the projects he challenged, noting that his brother-in-law is Bobby Roberts, director of the Central Arkansas Library System, to which the Jacksonville library belongs.