The Arkansas-Democrat Gazette reports this morning that Governor Hutchinson, speaking at a retreat by the board of directors for Metroplan, that the General Improvement Fund
that legislators have used in the past as pork-barrel politics and, indictments have revealed, a source of kickbacks, is truly dead.
According to the paper, in response to a question from Guy Mayor Sammy Higdon on whether GIF could be revived in some fashion, Hutchinson replied, "GIF money is history and is no longer and is not going to happen."
This is something Hutchinson has said before, but this time, apparently, he means it.
Former Sen. Jon Woods, a Republican from Springdale, is on trial in federal court in a kickback scheme involving GIF grants to Ecclesia College. The college's former president, Oren Paris III, and former state Rep. Micah Neal, were also indicted and pleaded guilty. Randell Shelton, a consultant and friend of Woods, is also on trial in the scheme.
Hutchinson said the fund could be replaced by executive branch competitive grants to "communities in terms of their unique needs." That wouldn't guarantee a clean program, of course. Hutchinson said the grant program could be modeled after the Rural Community Grant Program of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
Over the past several years, Former state Rep. Mike Wilson has sued three times over pork-barrel spending by the legislature and won. In the most recent case,
in 2017, the state Supreme Court ruled that GIF allocations were unconstitutional because the method of allocation of funds was too vague.
Hutchinson said in January 2015 that he would not continue the use of GIF grants, but reversed course in March of that year,
proposing a budget that would give the governor and legislators millions to dole out.