Taking Temptation Off the Table


Taking Temptation Off the Table

A smart lawmaker avoids temptation. Smart government avoids putting temptation in his way.

Temptation for state Rep. Micah Neal was a pot of taxpayer money from the General Improvement Fund, surplus money from the state budget that legislators love because it allows them to dole out the money to local pet projects and earn the gratitude of the sponsors of those local projects. Gratitude has been known to translate into political support.

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Sometimes, however, politicians seek more than gratitude. Sometimes they seek just a little taste of what they’re doling out, as did Neal, who admitted taking two kickbacks for helping send some taxpayer cash the way of two northwest Arkansas nonprofits.

Former state Rep. Mike Wilson has filed suit a couple of times to end the practice, which he calls a legislative “money-laundering machine.” But though restricted, the practice of using fund money for local projects continues. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has also said he wants to end this extremely localized use of the GIF, which longtime political observer and columnist Rex Nelson once described as “legislative crack.”

On Wednesday, the governor, saying he was saddened by news of Neal’s crime, noted that it enhanced his concern about potential abuse of GIF funding and pointed out that he had no GIF funds in his upcoming state budget.

The 91st Arkansas General Assembly opens its session today, a week after U.S. House Republicans sought to weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics, only to back off after a storm of public outrage and a disapproving tweet from President-elect Donald Trump. Although Hutchinson and the state Legislature have much on their plates this session, surely they could find time to address the temptation the GIF presents, if only to prevent further sad news of another fallen legislator.