by Max Brantley
Unsurprisingly, the Arkansas Supreme Court today denied a rehearing in the split decision, hotly debated, that allows some lucky school districts from the legislature's clear intention to put a 25-mill property tax assessment on all school districts to go toward the state fund for public education support.
The court rarely grants rehearings and, as here, rarely comments on its decision to say, effectively, "We meant what we said the first time."
The three justices — Chief Justice Jim Hannah, Special Justice Bucky Ellis and Justice Cliff Hoofman — would have granted a rehearing. CORRECTION: Only Hannah and Ellis participated in original decision, not Hoofman as I originally wrote. He replaced Justice Robert Brown, who retired. New Justice Jo Hart didn't participate in the rehearing decision. She succeeded Justice Jim Gunter, who was in replaced in the 4-3 vote on the original case by Ellis. That left the original four — Paul Danielson, Courtney Goodson, Donald Corbin, and Karen Baker — still controlling on the rehearing.
The court denied requests for additional briefs, including one from Gov. Mike Beebe, and denied plaintiffs' motion for Ellis and Hoofman to get off the case because they were Beebe appointees. Beebe, who was central to legislative and voter approval of the plan on which the case rested, appointed them to court seats.
The legislature should restore equity to the system of an equal charge to every taxpayer in Arkansas. That could be a difficult propsition. Eureka Springs and Fountain Lake successfully argued that, since a 25-mill charge in their district produces more than the base state per-pupil payment in support of education, they should get to keep the overage. That was not the intention of the original sponsors of the school funding plan, but the plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued that subsequent amendments in the law opened the door to capturing this money in a handful of school districts that qualify.