About $1 million left unspent after GIF lawsuit; some earmarked for state business lobby | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, October 12, 2017

About $1 million left unspent after GIF lawsuit; some earmarked for state business lobby

Posted By on Thu, Oct 12, 2017 at 2:16 PM

SITTING ON A MILLION: CAPDD has frozen what's left of GIF money.
  • SITTING ON A MILLION: CAPDD has frozen what's left of GIF money.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District, I have an update on how much taxpayer money remains at issue in Mike Wilson's successful lawsuit over the legislative scheme to launder General Improvement Fund money through regional planning districts.

The Arkansas Supreme Court last week agreed with Wilson that the money laundering scheme was illegal. To avoid past court rulings on unconstitutional legislative spending on local projects, the legislature came up with a scheme to launder the money first as grant money for the planning districts. There, the money would be — and was — distributed by the millions from equal allocations to each legislator. The Supreme Court said the first stage of the process was illegal because past court rulings said the legislature had to specify how money was to be spent. The legislature said only that it would go to "grants." Incidentally, two legislators have been indicted for taking kickbacks fromGIF money they and other legislators guided to a Bible college in Springdale. Other indictments are expected.

Wilson sued only the Central Arkansas district, because his home of Jacksonville is in that district. At trial, some $2.5 million had been unspent. But today, Rodney Larsen, the agency executive director tells me,

The current unspent amount for the GIF account related to the Supreme Court ruling is $969,636.16. Of that total of $969,36.16, one-hundred percent (100%) has been obligated through the CAPDD Board’s approval of thirty-one (31) grants which are in various stages of completion. The list of those approved grants are attached as requested.

You can see all the pending grants at this link.

The biggest unpaid are $75,000 each to Pulaski County and the Association for Career and Technical Education.

I had also asked for any documents that might reflect where those requests for unspent money originated. To that, he said:

We were unable to locate any paperwork to indicate recommendations other than staff’s recommendation to approve at the Board meeting. 

The Arkansas Supreme Court sent the case back to Circuit Judge Chris Piazza to comply with its order that the spending was unconstitutional. There, presumably, the judge will order a halt to any further spending of the illegally appropriated money and order it returned to the state treasury for all taxpayers benefit.

None of money will be spent in the interim. Said Larsen:

GIF funding has been frozen and we are in the process of notifying all grantees that we will not process any payments.

I'm seeking further information about the specifics of these grants. For example, $100,000 was earmarked for the Associated Industries of Arkansas Foundation and more than $49,000 of it has been paid out. The AIA is a part of a business lobbying combine with the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. I'm interested to see why lobbies need taxpayer support. Court precedent once ran strongly against the ppropriation of public tax dollars to private corporations. The money laundering scheme doesn't make it smell any better, legal or not. The business lobby is good at this sort of thing — see its effort, struck down in court, to get taxpayer support from city and county governments. After that court ruling, the legislature proposed a constitutional amendment to legalize local taxpayer handouts to chambers of commerce.

Most of the grants are for cities and counties, including Little Rock and Pulaski County and including some significant sums, such as $68,000 for Guy, in Faulkner County, and $50,000 for Benton Animal Control (precisely the kind of state money for local spending that earlier court rulings said was an illegal state expenditure.) The list also includes $75,000 for the CAPDD itself to offset costs of administering what started out as $3 million in state money. The Boys and Girls Club of Bryant got almost all of its $85,000 grant funded.

The totals on the spreadsheet don't match Larsen's figure for unspent money because some of the grant amounts include small amounts of funding that was not part of the GIF lawsuit brought by Wilson, he said.

UPDATE: I now can add a summary of each of the unpaid grant requests. They tend to be hyperlocal — a warning siren for Little Italy; sidewalks for Cabot; restrooms for a community center in Ward; body cameras for Faulkner County deputies. Again, they couldn't be better evidence of the local nature of the funding, the kind of funding tthe laundering scheme was devised to enable despite past court rulings.

Also: this is how the boys at the chamber of commerce proposed to spend their $100,000 in tax money.
click to enlarge aia1.jpg

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