by Max Brantley
This is not a vote of confidence in today's Democrat-Gazette: Gov. Mike Beebe "declined to speculate about the future of the top forestry official, John Shannon ...."
Legislative Audit will review the agency's deficit operation. So will federal officials. That will take some time. But the core fact is that the agency improperly borrowed federal money to balance the books for four years running. Republican legislators fairly look to the agency director as a place for an improperly borrowed buck to stop. Shannon may have gotten bad advice from his fiscal officer, but it is hard to figure how a review will diminish the agency leader's responsibility in the course of four years of deficit spending to be fully grounded on the proper use of borrowed money.
I'd predict Republican legislators, sooner or later, will have a scalp to display. Fair enough. (Would but they had anything but reflexive defense for the Republican-holdover deadwood who got paid as head of a minor state commission while running a pizza business, not exactly on the side given his many office absences.)
The sooner the accountability issue is resolved the better. Then the state — and the noisy Republican legislators — can decide a far more difficult question. The Forestry Commission couldn't afford to operate its existing structure on the money available. Was its budget too big or its state revenue support too small? Cut jobs or raise taxes? This is a question the Republicans, fair as the accountability question has been, have repeatedly dodged.