Speaking Plain English (Editorial)

by Arkansas Business Editors  on Monday, Feb. 7, 2011 12:00 am  

The editorialists of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette took time and space last week to recognize "the good guys" of the General Assembly, specifically Sen. Robert Thompson, D-Paragould, for his dogged attention to the proliferation of state-owned vehicles.

The state's vehicle fleet has been a story of particular interest to our friendly competitors at the daily paper, so their attention to a fellow traveler is wholly appropriate.

While we're sure that the Democrat-Gazette meant no slight, we'd like to take time and space to recognize one of the good gals of the Legislature who has taken on an issue that has been of particular interest here at Arkansas Business. We're referring to Rep. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, who last week moved smoothly through committee a bill that would bring welcome transparency to the world of improvement district bonds.

English succeeded where former Rep. Barbara Nix, D-Benton, failed in 2009 - but that may have more to do with recent headlines than with the relative political skills of the two women. Two years ago, no one had heard of Kevin Lewis, and the growing list of banks taken in by his counterfeit improvement district bonds suggests that his particular scam wasn't one that even financial professionals had considered a possibility.

Now, it is true that requiring the opening of books on legitimate improvement districts and their bond payments would not directly prevent the kind of bogus, printed-in-the-basement bonds that Lewis was freely exchanging for real cash. But anything to bring more formality to the loosey-goosey business of financing communal improvements would be a step in the right direction.

It's safe to say it will be a long, long time before another bank in Arkansas invests in improvement district bonds or accepts them as collateral without making absolutely sure that the bonds are the real deal. But flat-out fraud isn't the only abuse that the current system allows.

Money coming into improvement district accounts on a monthly basis but typically only being paid out annually practically invites an unscrupulous manager to put the money to unauthorized use in the meantime. And who would know? Filing something as simple as a bank statement showing deposits coming in and checks going out would allow property owners to follow the path of their own money.

The fact that regulation championed by Democrats in 2009 has been taken up by a Republican in 2011 underscores just how non-controversial this kind of basic good government should be.

"I don't understand why people don't want to be transparent," English, herself a frustrated property owner in the Runyan Acres sewer improvement district in north Pulaski County, said the other day. "If you don't have anything to hide, why do you care?"

We couldn't have said it better.

The next stop for the Improvement District Transparency Act is in the Senate, where the 2009 version sailed through easily under the stewardship of term-limited Shane Broadway, D-Bryant. Here's hoping that nothing and no one impedes its progress there this year.

In fact, knowing what we now know, it's hard to imagine voting against this utterly reasonable requirement. It would certainly be hard to put any opponent in the category of the good guys - and gals.  

 

 

Please read our comments policy before commenting.