Friday, July 08, 2011

EDITORIAL >>Hey, big spenders

The ancient advice that seems to be most often rewarded is the biblical injunction to beware those who announce their arrival by bragging about their piety. They always turn out to be undeserving.

Nowhere is the advice borne out more clearly than in politics. We were reminded of it again last week by a couple of our newest political stars, the Arkansas secretary of state and the new congressman from the First Congressional District.

Mark Martin and Rick Crawford had run for the two offices railing against government spending and the extravagance of politicians and saying they would take an axe to government spending. There were sufficient warnings from their pasts to doubt their piety, Martin because he had been the kingpin of legislative spenders, knocking down $56,290 from the taxpayers in expense claims in 2009 alone in addition to his state salary as a state representative, and Crawford because he had declared bankruptcy to escape his personal debts.

So it was not surprising when Martin proclaimed Tuesday that he had ended the first fiscal year as secretary of state by saving $3.2 million from his $18.2 budget, a whopping 17.8 percent. He issued a news release praising himself and the staff he had hired for their frugality and their ingenuity in getting things done better at lower cost since he took over in mid-January. Martin had been taking a beating for his blunders and misspending ($53,000 for a Republican consultant to train him and his top staff in how to be ethical at a luxurious mountain resort in Benton County). He needed some good press.

So he offered the $3.2 million he had saved to help foster parents and others whose state benefits were being cut by Gov. Beebe. It had to be pointed out to him that this was not possible.

Alas, nosey reporters got in the way. The state fiscal administrator pointed out that all seven constitutional officers spend much less than their budgets and they do it every single year. They get bigger appropriations than they need or expect to spend and then they can boast about how frugal they are when they do not spend it all. Except they do the bragging at election time. Martin couldn’t wait. He needed the publicity now.

When reporters checked on the spending at the other six constitutional offices—governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, auditor and land commissioner—none of them spent close to their budget, but only Martin proclaimed that he had saved money. Governor Beebe, whose budget is only about one tenth of Martin’s, saved an amazing 24 percent of his appropriation. He merely shrugged when a reporter asked him about it. Beebe said all the constitutional officers should start submitting realistic budgets to the legislature rather than the oversized budgets that will make them look frugal when they don’t spend it all.

Here’s another thing. Martin was in the office only 5 ½ months of the year. The other 6 ½ months of the budget year belonged to his predecessor, Charlie Daniels, who was spending under budget when he turned the office over to Martin. Daniels is now the state auditor, and he, too, came in far under budget in his new offices across the hall.

By the way, Martin asked the legislature to increase his budget by $400,000 for the fiscal year that began last week and it obliged. So we should expect another press release at this time next year proclaiming that he was an even bigger Scrooge in his second year.

Congressman Crawford did not issue a news release or hold a press conference touting his own efficiency. It would have been pretty brazen. But he did continue to proclaim that the federal government was spending recklessly under the Democrat, Barack Obama.

But someone was keeping track. LegiStorm, a congressional watchdog, produced an analysis of the office spending of the 94 freshmen members of the U.S. House of Representatives during their first three months in office.

Crawford’s office was the fifth most extravagant office in the freshman class. The average payroll of the 94 new congressmen is $176,342. Crawford paid his staff $216,122. It was not clear whether his staff was larger or he paid them more.

If you were wondering, the staff cost of our new congressman in the Second District, Tim Griffin, was $192,849, well above the average for freshmen.

Here’s a prediction: Another week will not pass without Crawford or Griffin, or both, making public pronouncement about uncontrolled government spending.