Monday, March 30, 2015

Line up at the trough: budget includes $40 million in GIF pork

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2015 at 11:03 AM

Remember when Gov. Asa Hutchinson promised an end to legislative pork barrel spending, the time-honored tradition of splitting up surplus money for legislators' pet projects in their districts via the General Improvement Fund act? 

Never mind! The D-G this morning reports

The Legislature and the governor would each get $20 million from the General Improvement Fund to spend on their favored projects. The Senate and the House would get $10 million each to distribute for projects recommended by lawmakers.

What happened to other budget priorities, governor? Ongoing statewide programs? We've asked for comment and will update if we hear back. 

This is a scandal whether you're on the right side of the spectrum (this pork is paid for by taxes) or the left (the opportunity cost of this pork is less money for programs like pre-k or health care).

It's also makes for a less transparent process, as outlined in this 2014 report from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families

Here's the kicker. The report found that Arkansas has consistently made overly pessimistic revenue forecasts. Thus, the legislature is failing to create allocations for all of the likely revenue, leaving set-asides for scrumptious pork. Arkansas tied for last in a recent review of revenue forecasting practices by the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities

The report argues that lawmakers have been “building an intentional surplus into the budget.” That goes into the GIF fund, where it is “spent with relatively fewer restrictions and less public transparency.” 

For the record, a 2006 state Supreme Court decision outlawed the practice of "local and special" earmarks, but,  well, legislators cheerfully flout it

Our friends at Americans for Prosperity Arkansas are not happy about Hutchinson's flip flop on GIF pork. AFP Arkansas State Director David Ray said in a statement:

Arkansans deserve better than $40 million of their hard-earned tax dollars being spent on earmark projects. When voters sent their elected leaders to Little Rock last November, they sent them there to exercise fiscal responsibility, not to continue business as usual.

p.s.  Just for context, the revenue impact statement for Rep. Warwick Sabin's bill to offer tax relief to the state's low-income residents, which Republicans concluded the state could not afford despite lavishing capital gains tax cuts on the state's wealthiest citizens: 0 in 2016, $10 million in 2017, $20 million in 2018, $40 million in 2019.

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