by Max Brantley
Headlines in review:
* WHY DOES THE BUS COMPANY HATE THE FIRST AMENDMENT? The same day the Central Arkansas Transit Authority agreed to pay $15,000 to settle a lawsuit over its attempt to discriminate against atheists in advertising content, we learned that a community organizer had to engage an attorney to be able to distribute material at the bus depot downtown. There's still a quarrel over how much access people attempting to engage in free speech will be allowed at that facility. Perhaps the continuing prohibition on leafleting at a central bus platform has a legitimate safety interest. (I don't think so, judging from photo of island above.) But the original rule against free speech leafleting at the whole facility certainly did not. You don't think this stifling of free speech had anything to do with the organization's recent opposition to the city sales tax increase do you?
* QUORUM COURT KICKS THE CAN DOWN THE ROAD: The Pulaski Quorum Court tabled the Lake Maumelle land use proposals last night until completion of a new study of the watershed by the U.S. Geological Survey. It was clear Judge Buddy Villines had lined up votes to remove improvements to the proposals added by the Coalition of Greater Little Rock Neighborhoods. The Coalition Protecting Maumelle Watershed enjoyed added support from Occupy Little Rock last night in its doughty effort to restore truly meaningful development controls to the proposals. I'm afraid, however, that delay helps opponents of any regulation of the watershed more than it helps those in favor of stronger regulation. The Kochs can pay to send their lobbyist down from Rogers for every single meeting. The Deltic Timber lobbyist — excuse me, the Deltic Timber lobbyist hired here to represent Perry County opponents to clean water for Little Rock — is paid to turn up at every meeting. And the Kochs and Deltic spend money to elect the politicians who make the decisions and hire the people who draw up the county regulations. The only possible good news is a tip I got the other day that the mighty Stephens financial interests might be joining the fray on the side of watershed protection — on account of the views of that magnificent watershed afforded their private Alotian golf course. Any clubhouse in a storm, I say.
* MISSING THE FOREST FOR TREES: Can we stipulate that Gov. Mike Beebe squelched discussion of Forestry Commission money woes in 2010 for political reasons? Can we stipulate that the agency misspent federal grant money? Can we stipulate that the books must be righted? I say yes. OK, we've cleared the political underbrush. Now let's talk the tougher substantive issues. If the severance tax is to continue to be the Commission's major source of support, will legislators raise it? If not, will legislators support fees on the private timber industry sufficient to pay for the services provided by the Forestry Commission in fire fighting and tree nurseries? If fees and taxes are out of the question, will legislators shut up about layoffs? I'm looking at you, Republican caucus.