Wednesday, September 06, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Cutting off GIF grants

The state Supreme Court on Thursday will hear arguments from former Jacksonville Rep. Mike Wilson and state agencies on the constitutionality of lawmakers using “surplus” revenue – General Improvement Fund, or GIF – for home district projects, which Wilson says are unconstitutional and rife with abuse. Let’s hope he wins and several state legislators will go to prison for lining their pockets with kickbacks from grant recipients.

Last November, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled against Wilson, saying the distribution of GIF money by planning districts on behalf of individual legislators was legal. Cabot’s Renew Development Corporation, doing business as the Lonoke County Boys and Girls Club, was approved in 2015 for a $26,000 GIF grant to improve an existing building that would be used for a proposed community center.

But if Wilson wins on appeal, he’s hoping to have GIF funds granted through the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District ordered returned to the state treasury for other uses. Wilson has been a lone crusader against what he calls “a civil conspiracy against the Constitution.” We would have dropped the word civil. There’s nothing civil in ripping off millions of taxpayer dollars and lawmakers taking a commission for appropriating the so-called improvement grants.

But future GIF grants may prove to be a moot point, according to state Sen. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville). “It may never happen again,” said Johnson, alluding to three current or former state legislators in northwest Arkansas accused of accepting kickbacks or channeling GIF funds back to themselves.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funds have gone to dubious programs in Fort Smith, Springdale and Bentonville sponsored by more than a dozen “small-government” legislators. Ecclesia College, with 150 students, received $710,500, while a group of treatment centers called Decision Point, Inc. received $746,000 — nearly $1.5 million on just two dubious projects.

The state Supreme Court could save the legislature from further embarrassment — and save taxpayers millions of dollars — by ending general improvement grants once and for all.