Login

ADVERTISEMENT

JOHN BRUMMETT: GIF giving headaches

The state's long-suffering and newly controlling Republicans, especially those from Northwest Arkansas, have always contended that the old one-party Democratic state legislative culture was corrupt.

No one can much argue. There were fine and honorable people in that good ol' boy Legislature. And there were others who weren't.

Republicans, especially those from the northwest corner who long toiled as a pitiable minority, have seen themselves as reformers. Now in charge, they see themselves imposing a new righteousness.

There's irony, then, that the current Arkansas Republican Legislature lives under a looming cloud of alleged corruption that currently hangs primarily from Fort Smith up to Springdale.

But the point is neither partisan nor regional. Instead, it is human and universal.

Any sizable collection of people will have bad apples. And giving legislators specific control over a pot of taxpayer money will inevitably prove too tempting for the lower-grade apples.

Real reform would require putting up walls between legislators--whether pristine or rotten, Republican or Democrat--and the taxpayer money they are constitutionally responsible for voting to appropriate, but not to take as their own.

To my everlasting shame, I wrote columns in the early 1990s in support of Democratic legislators who wrested control from then-Gov. Mike Huckabee of some of the state's biennial surplus--the General Improvement Fund--and helped themselves to it for "local projects" back home.

I was young, which is no excuse. Huckabee could be irksome, which isn't either.

An inexperienced legislator constrained by term limits could make himself important only one way--with GIF money, his or her own, as legislators came to consider it.

It soon became apparent that it was all a horrible idea, of course. Legislators decided to divvy up sums of this surplus equally among themselves for personal control of how it would be spent--presumably, but not necessarily, for volunteer fire departments or community centers or other capital projects in their surely needy districts.

The money didn't follow needs according to severity and priority. It followed legislators equally, dollar for dollar. There was no prescribed process or accountability--no pre-audit, no ongoing monitoring, no post-audit.

Then a lawsuit against the practice led to legislators pretending to reform it. They proceeded to launder their equal shares through regional planning and development districts. Those entities handed the money out, but not according to formal applications or careful consideration, but to simple legislator dictates. Legislators would call over to the districts with instructions on what to do with "my" GIF money.

You can guess what happened.

There is a little professed religion school, calling itself Ecclesia College, in Springdale. Being supposedly religion-based, it shouldn't get public money even on the up-and-up, much less another way.

Two recent former Republican legislators, a House member and a senator, have been charged with steering some of their GIF money to this college, then getting some of that money back to their pockets after they sent it to the college and the college ran it through a consultant. One of the legislators has pleaded guilty and the other was trying in vain last week to get recordings of some of his conversations kept out of the court record.

Meantime, a sitting Republican state senator, Jake Files of Fort Smith, who chairs no less than the Senate Revenue and Tax Committee, acknowledges that federal authorities have been to see him about, as he put it, the broader GIF investigation.

He has not been charged. All we can say, based on fine reporting in this newspaper, mainly, is that it seems he sought to get GIF money through his local planning and development district for his apparently struggling contracting business.

Files has specifically denied allegations of fraudulent maneuvering contained in a federal affidavit in support of a search warrant.

But the problem, you see, is not merely the opportunity for criminal corruption through kickbacks. It's that a legislator would have special knowledge of, and thus the advantage of special access to, taxpayer money he himself had directed supposedly for public purposes.

To Gov. Asa Hutchinson's and the recent legislative session's credit, there was no personal GIF money for legislators appropriated. But legislators still grumble that they have needs in their rural areas and that there is nothing wrong with addressing them.

They are quite correct.

The Legislature should identify categories of local projects suitable for state aid. Then it should assign those categories to relevant state agencies. Then it should appropriate money to those state agencies for distribution for local projects based solely on formal and carefully graded applications from the relevant local entities, not from legislators personally. Then those state agencies ought to conduct pre-auditing, ongoing monitoring and post-auditing on the flow of money.

There is a way to use state taxpayer money responsibly and transparently for legitimate local needs without bothering the FBI.

You can't reform all the people. So, you reform the system.

------------v------------

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 09/12/2017

Comments

DoubleBlind says...

Quite correct.

Posted 12 September 2017, 7:20 a.m. Suggest removal

davidscherreysbcglobalnet says...

True.

Posted 12 September 2017, 7:31 a.m. Suggest removal

WGT says...

Indeed.

Posted 12 September 2017, 7:39 a.m. Suggest removal

mozarky2 says...

Brummett, you forgot to mention, to your everlasting shame, your disgraceful, fawning coverage of the criminal Nick Wilson.

Posted 12 September 2017, 7:52 a.m. Suggest removal

Delta2 says...

Hog tweets are getting better than the articles (which are not bad themselves).

Posted 12 September 2017, 7:54 a.m. Suggest removal

TimberTopper says...

Good one, John. moz, what did he do wrong, say something bad about someone you voted for? Or do you prefer the system as is?

Posted 12 September 2017, 8:25 a.m. Suggest removal

PopulistMom says...

Good column. It doesn't stop with GIF. Boondoggles such as gifting the Koch brothers with a steel mill comes to mind. Bond issues benefit bond salesmen and bond lawyers when revenues often could be raised more efficiently from general tax revenues. Many school improvements focus on building new buildings which benefit the construction companies, engineers, and architects while children surely would benefit from summer school enrichment programs, reading assistants, tutors, and coaches etc. However, no bigwigs earn big dollars from hiring more teachers and coaches. While government is necessary, it is full of graft and corruption. The good of society depends on fine journalists such as yourself to shine a flashlight on the corruption. A two party system often helps as well. In Arkansas, however, both parties historically have been owned by the big business interests.

Posted 12 September 2017, 9 a.m. Suggest removal

Delta123 says...

Amen and Amen

Posted 12 September 2017, 9:15 a.m. Suggest removal

Delta123 says...

Pop, a question. You clearly have an agenda (negative) when it comes to the Kochs. Let say, however, that Amazon wanted to build their 2nd Headquarters in Arkansas. Would you then be in favor of some sort of government intervention by way of financial incentives to attract them?

Posted 12 September 2017, 9:20 a.m. Suggest removal

mozarky2 says...

TT, educate yourself on Nick Wilson and get back to me.
If a Republican had done what Wilson did, Brummett's every column for months would have covered it.

Posted 12 September 2017, 9:46 a.m. Suggest removal

mrcharles says...

2 rich guys setting in an exclusive club for the super wealthy. One reading a paper while the other is looking out the window. He says it's raining outside.... The Newspaper reading Elite looks up and says , " It will wet the People!"....

Oh the humanity of having an agenda................ like the ADG with its overall editorials .

Back to the days of the barons.

Posted 12 September 2017, 10:03 a.m. Suggest removal

TimberTopper says...

PopMom, you are totally correct! moz, I am well educated on the Sorry Senator, Wilson. However, you act as if JB was a bud to Wilson and let him slide, while bringing to task maybe your buds there in NWAR. That is not the case.

Posted 12 September 2017, 10:42 a.m. Suggest removal

PopulistMom says...

Delta,

Good question. I am one of a growing number of people generally opposed to these incentives. Instead of giving rewards to one big business, I believe that it is more productive to have good schools, quality workers, low crime, low taxes for all of the companies to enjoy instead of giving big benefits to one corporation. This tendency has included all sorts of graft; the businesses who donate to the politicians such as the Koch brothers, the bond houses, and the bond lawyers all seem to be the ones who get this largesse. It has crippled Arkansas. Too much tax revenue goes into funding programs which benefit Arkansas' fat cats. I've also seen corporations such as Marriott cause the states of Virginia and Maryland get into a bidding war over tax benefits. As a result, Marriott ends up paying little in state taxes. It's not at all fair to small businesses. On the other hand, I have seen smart cooperation between government and business where local community colleges contract to train workers to work in that industry.

Posted 12 September 2017, 10:43 a.m. Suggest removal

Delta123 says...

Chuck, Jeff Bazos v Kochs. Guess what, they both have agendas. And very similar agendas I might add. And shocker, neither agenda has a damn thing to do with taking care of old Chuck and Delta.

Posted 12 September 2017, 10:45 a.m. Suggest removal

Lifelonglearner says...

Like so many problems in business, as well as government, when people make mistakes, stupid, immoral, or illegal, it is usually a systemic problem that makes it possible. With our politicians, there are also the problems of gerrymandered safe districts and weak ethics laws.
PopMom, I so agree. The problem is not that Arkansas has a high tax rate in comparison to its neighbors. The problem is who actually pays, and how effectively the money is spent.

Posted 12 September 2017, 10:57 a.m. Suggest removal

mozarky2 says...

TT, Brummett never gave anything but fawning coverage to Wilson.
I was on the Murphy Commission committee that uncovered his theft. Very dramatic testimony, hearing from those Child Support Enforcement officials defending their agency's success vs. the thieving POS Wilson. Not to mention, Wilson served his time on Ft. Walton Beach!

Posted 12 September 2017, 11:34 a.m. Suggest removal

TimberTopper says...

moz, LO! seems you blame JB for Wilson spending his time on Ft. Walton Beach. And chances are JB didn't come in and say to the commission what a wonderful person Wilson was. Maybe, you are pissed at JB because here you are on this important commission and JB didn't list your name enough or the great actions you did as a member. Not enough Atta Boys there moz?

Posted 12 September 2017, 1:47 p.m. Suggest removal

mozarky2 says...

As usual, you miss the point entirely. Brummett never gave anything but fawning coverage to Wilson, to Brummett's eternal shame. When did I say anything about my "buds" here in NWA?
And, I seek no accolades for my work on the MC, especially from the likes of Brummett. He only praises people on the illiberal left, not classical liberals like myself.
Let me bring up another matter from that time: one of our recommendations was to boost the pay of the people who work in the DMV offices. The head of the Department of Finance and Administration, Richard Weiss immediately said "Forget it. None of our legislators want to be known for raising the cost of government". Need I remind you what party completely dominated the Ledge at that time?

Posted 12 September 2017, 2:24 p.m. Suggest removal

WhododueDiligence says...

No, mozarky, TimberTopper didn't miss your point entirely. That would be impossible since you've been going over that same point hour after hour. Since it's not characteristic of you to get this stuck on one point, there's still hope that this one-track train of thought has a caboose.

Posted 12 September 2017, 3:11 p.m. Suggest removal

Packman says...

Hey moz - I'm sure it (forgetting to mention his good buddy Nick "Jailhouse" Wilson) was just an oversight.
.
So, JB, your excuse for being Nick Wilson's lap dog and being totally wrong about GIF funding was because you were young and Mike Huckabee irksome. What's your excuse now for being wrong about President Trump?"
.
Hey Pop - You call JB a fine journalist? Really? Seriously? Did you miss the part where for all practical purposes John Brummett helped cover up Nick Wilson's corruption for years?

Posted 12 September 2017, 3:21 p.m. Suggest removal

KnuckleBall says...

Good article John, yes Nick Wilson was a crook and from Northwest Arkansas.... Mmmmmmmm must be something in the water up there... and now has spread to the UofA... lol

Posted 12 September 2017, 5:27 p.m. Suggest removal

mozarky2 says...

Um, actually from NE Arkansas...Pocahontas, to be precise.

Posted 12 September 2017, 6:01 p.m. Suggest removal

PopulistMom says...

Packman,

Yes. John Brummett is a fine journalist who presents a point of view not represented elsewhere in the ADG. In his early career he believed too much of the Clinton propaganda and never really has seen their dark side as completely as some of us, he really has his finger on the pulse of what is happening politically in Arkansas. I really enjoy his writing. While I read the ADG daily to catch up with what is going on at home, I read it in part due to his column. I must say I also enjoy some of the other people who comment.

Posted 12 September 2017, 7:39 p.m. Suggest removal

Log in to comment