Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Applying Lessons From Game and Fish Windfall



The whole of state government finds itself with a lot more extra money than the families it is taking the money from, but the State Game and Fish Commission finds itself with a windfall even relative to the rest of state government. The commission recently signed a deal with natural gas companies regarding the extraction of resources on Arkansas state lands. That deal will get them about 30 million dollars a year. In addition, they get money from user fees and licenses. In addition, they get about $20 million dollars a year from the Federal government (which does not let the fact they they are the world's largest debtor prevent them from giving money to seemingly everyone in the world). If that was not enough, they also get almost half of a one-eighth cent sales tax.

Many around the state are upset that the State Game and Fish Commission is keeping all of the oil and gas money from public wildlife lands for its own use. While I understand their point, a plain reading of our state constitution shows that no other use could be made with the money. While the legislature still has to appropriate the money Game and Fish wants spent, the ledge is constitutionally barred from appropriating it on anything else. It is the same with the Game and Fish share of the sales tax. The constitution says it is theirs and thus cannot be legally diverted to roads, education, health care, or any other use.

Some in the ledge want to play word games about what areas of spending can be classified as Game and Fish expenditures. Other folks want to take some of the money no matter what the constitution says. I have a lot more sympathy for environmental interests who wonder why Game and Fish is even in the natural gas business on what is supposed to be wildlife refugees, not oil fields. Of all people, John Brummett had the only answer consistent with the rule of law: If the ledge wants some of this money then they need to refer a new constitutional amendment overturning the old ones and get it passed by a vote of the people.

State officials are naturally reluctant to do that. Changing the constitution should not be done lightly, and it is and should be a lot of trouble. The problem with the two amendments in question is that they give zero flexibility about where Game and Fish proceeds are to be spent. A constitutional amendment that gives zero flexibility about where money is to be spent cannot be adjusted to unforeseen circumstances, and NO ONE is smart enough to foresee them all!

Now I want our esteemed legislators, education officials, media mavens, and regular citizens like me to think about the sublime truth of the above paragraph and apply it to our upcoming debate on the proposed lottery amendment. That amendment is even more inflexible than the two amendments so many now find unsatisfactory when it comes to how profits are going to be spent. They must all be spent on higher education. It does not matter if 20 years from now the feds promise to fund 100% of colleges. It does not matter if distance learning makes the cost of a college education one tenth of what it is now. It does not matter if there are children starving in the streets of Little Rock. It does not matter if gambling addictions in this state sky-rocket as a direct result of the lottery and cause the cost to taxpayers for social services to escalate by millions of dollars. All the profits from this lotto proposal are constitutionally bound to higher education. None of it could be diverted to clean up the social messes gambling is known to cause.

I am begging my fellow citizens to oppose this flawed lottery proposal, even if you think some kind of lottery is OK if done properly. Good grief, right now we are dealing with the blowback from inflexibly written constitutional amendments regarding assignment of monies. How could our leaders be so foolish as to make that same error even as we are wrestling with the consequences of the same type of shortsighted policy mistakes? Some people have zero ability to apply logic and the lessons of history to public policy, unfortunately when they win, the rest of us also have to live with the consequences of their ignorance.

1 Comments:

Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

ps-

I don't think much of Game and Fish's rationalization that even if a constitutional amendment was passed, they dare not share the gas money with the rest of the state because it would cost them the federal money.

For one thing, the Feds are broke and just don't know it yet. That money is going to run out soon anyway. Another thing is that fed money comes with fed strings. You have to spend money to get fed money, so without that spending we could have a Game and Fish that was built the Arkansas way, not the Fed/UN way.

Like some school districts, we might be better off without the fed money if it frees us from their onerous obligations.

2:03 PM, August 06, 2008  

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