Friday, May 21, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Crazy ballot tactics

For the Arkansas Supreme Court, it was a good week that began on a Thursday with halting an extravagant pollution-belching coal plant that the state didn’t need and ended the next Thursday with an order that should halt an effort to hoodwink the voters this fall.

A few west Arkansas businessmen who call themselves the Arkansas Progressive Group concocted an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that purports to repeal every Arkansas tax and replace them with one giant sales tax on everything that any individual ever acquires. They got it past the attorney general and the secretary of state, who would only later realize they had been bamboozled, and got ready to circulate petitions and put it on the general-election ballot.

The amendment was both stupid and misleading — at least the small parts that voters would see when they went to mark their ballots. It seems to have been written by the general counsel of the Arkansas Republican Party, or at least he submitted the amendment and defended it in court.

To avoid a challenge to the popular name and ballot title, the sponsors sued themselves in the Supreme Court when no one was watching. A state law allows people to challenge the accuracy and aptness of an amendment’s popular name and ballot title, and the Supreme Court has sometimes stricken proposals from the ballot because they were not honest with voters. To prevent such a lawsuit, the sponsors sued themselves and, of course, they raised no arguments against their own proposal.

Should the Supreme Court then rule that the name and title were OK, no one else then could challenge the amendment.

But someone spotted the group’s filing on the Supreme Court’s docket and alerted the business community in Pulaski County, which apparently is much savvier than the fellows at Fort Smith. Although the proposal would prevent all taxes of any kind on businesses forevermore — only working people and retirees would pay the mammoth sales tax — the chamber of commerce, auto dealers and the rest realized that it would drive all retail purchases of almost every kind across the state’s borders, to the black market or to the Internet. So they intervened in the Supreme Court to raise arguments that the sponsors would not.

Not so fast, the justices said. It is absurd — an insult to the justice system — for one side to sue itself so that it can be assured of the ruling that it wants. While the law that permits direct challenges to the Supreme Court is a little vague, the legislature could not conceivably have intended that the judicial process would be corrupted that way.

So the Arkansas Progressive Group can still circulate its petitions and get the crazy measure on the ballot, and if they get enough signatures, someone can sue and point out that the popular name and the ballot title lie about what the amendment would actually do. When you go to vote on June 8, someone may be there with a petition for you to sign. You can educate yourself on it or not. You can be sure that it will not survive a ballot challenge.