Tuesday, February 23, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Capitol follies

You can never underestimate the public spiritedness of the average politician in an election year. If self-interest clashes with the public good, look out public.

The state is in dire straits, too little revenue chasing expanding needs. Trying to plug holes in the budget, Gov. Beebe proposed a patchwork of fund transfers to protect the schools, counties, prisons and medical services to the needy. He wanted to take $10 million from the slush fund that legislators reserve for vote-getting projects back home in their districts and use the money for desperate state needs. If revenues pick up by the end of the year, he would restore the money to the lawmakers.

But the Joint Budget Committee would have none of it. That money reminds voters back home that their lawmaker is getting lagniappe for them and they could not take a chance on losing it. Instead, the committee voted to take most of the money from perilously strapped funds regardless of the risk to solvency. Richard Weiss, the state’s longtime chief fiscal officer, warned that they were “pushing the envelope.” Sen. Jim Luker of Wynne, sometimes the lone sane voice, told his colleagues they were begging for trouble. He could not understand why they were so anxious about losing their little pork projects.

We thought this was resolved a couple of years ago when Mike Wilson of Jacksonville took them to court and won a decision that the individual earmarks were unconstitutional and a misuse of the taxpayers’ money. They were taxpayer-funded re-election slush funds and violated the prohibition against local and special acts. We should have known they would find a way around a prudent but inconvenient law. You can’t write a law that will compel politicians to put the public interest first.