General Improvement Funds, commonly referred to as GIF have a long, colorful history in Arkansas politics. Many years ago this pot of money was divvied up among legislators by means of voted-on appropriations. The appropriation specified the funds to be used on specific projects in legislators’ districts. Eventually this practice was deemed unconstitutional and prohibited. But fear not, a work-around was crafted.
Legislators began appropriating funds to individual “improvement districts.” These entities are ran by the State to assist with a variety of projects in their respective districts. Legislators would then give a nod and a wink to the improvement districts indicating their desire for funds to be given to various entities and projects.
Generally speaking, these funds were put to good use. Turnouts for volunteer firefighters, new playground equipment for the local schools, sponsorships for senior citizen centers, etc. Without a doubt these monies played a significant role in the wellbeing of our communities.
But, as we all know, it just takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch. And that’s exactly what happened. Well, probably many bad apples, but you get the point.
Late last year a state representative plead guilty to federal authorities for his involvement in a kick-back scheme centered on GIF funds. A now former state senator had been indicted for his alleged involvement in the same scheme. And while no other elected officials are officially linked to this case, the media has well documented an active public corruption investigation by the FBI and likely other federal investigative authorities is underway all across the state.
And certainly, this isn’t the first time GIF has been abused. It’s just the first time since the early 1990’s that anyone has been held accountable for their gross misdeeds.
With all the clouds surrounding GIF, the Governor has ceased it’s existence. It’s unfortunate. I’ve been in the volunteer fire departments and I’ve seen the tears in their turnouts. I know the needs of our local libraries and as the wife of a public school educator, I know the needs of our schools and our teachers.
But I also know that this had to be done. The challenge now is to find other ways to support our communities and institutions. Surely there is a way that promotes transparency and instills integrity within our system of government? Surely so. And so to my colleagues in the legislature I say this, “our constituents sent us here for a reason. Let’s do the work they’ve asked us to do. Let’s find the answers.”