Friday, March 18, 2016

TOP STORY >> Future grants hang in balance

Leader senior staff writer

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza on Friday dismissed Jacksonville attorney Mike Wilson’s request for a temporary injunction to prevent Central Arkansas Planning and Development District or the state from funding further General Improvement Fund grants.

Wilson’s attorney, John Ogles of Jacksonville, questioned him for nearly two hours about grants funded or slated to be funded through General Improvement Funds and the nature of his opposition.


Piazza also ruled against a motion to dismiss the case by defendants’ attorneys Sam Jones — for CAPDD — and Assistant Attorney General Colin Jorgensen, representing the Department of Finance and Administration and state Auditor Andrea Lee.

The temporary injunction could be moot anyway. CAPDD director Rodney Larsen wrote to grantees on Feb. 26 that “the grant application you submitted…cannot be awarded at this time. Until the case is resolved, we will retain your application and apologize for any inconvenience.”


Wilson’s suit maintains that state General Improvement Funds are laundered through CAPDD, an unconstitutional workaround to allow state money to fund local projects.

Funding projects and groups directly by appropriation was routine when Wilson first challenged as unconstitutional both local funding and lack of specificity of purpose in a suit he won in 2005. The state Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 2007.

Jones and Jorgensen chose not to cross-examine Wilson, offering instead to rebut Wilson’s testimony with that of Larsen, the CAPDD director. But, instead, Piazza told attorneys to set a new date to proceed to trial on the matter.

Wilson noted that, to the penny, the amount of GIF funds deposited with CAPDD in both 2013 and 2014 zeroed out, once checks had been cut to fund GIF grants that legislators had endorsed.

“Revenues and expenses were exactly the same,” he said, “in and out.” He called it a “pass-through,” language to which Jones objected.

Wilson called it proof that legislators are funding the projects as surely as if they had written and passed appropriations in General Assembly to fund them.

Wilson read to the court the information CAPDD provided at his request.

Among the things he noted was a $4,938 grant for ITT Tech, a for-profit entity wanting a 3-D printer, 3-D milling machine and supplies for an electrical engineering technology classroom.

“The rules prohibit a grant to a for-profit entity,” which ITT Tech is by its own admission, he said.

Wilson also said that the state money for these grants had to be matched by at least the same amount, something that happens only occasionally, according to records from the CAPDD.

Wilson said that authorizations and appropriations totaling $15 million were made to an entity called the Central Arkansas Economic Develop District but the state disbursed that money to Central Arkansas Planning and Developing District, and then CAPDD wrote the checks to fund the individual grants.

Wilson said he hasn’t seen any evidence that Central Arkansas Economic Develop District exists or that it is doing business as Central Arkansas Planning and Development District.

No date has been set yet for the trial.