Circumstances sent me on an unexpected trip to New York this week. Greater love has no father, a committed catophobe, than babysitting his sick daughter's cat. But enough about that.
I found myself removed from the daily news business and reading stories from afar, wishing I could pursue some more answers to questions raised by some of the big news stories of the day.
• The great car caper. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel decided to give up his state car on account of questions raised by a Democrat-Gazette article on whether this amounts to a pay supplement in excess of the state constitution's income limit for the seven statewide officers. I happen to think cars are pay supplements and should be declared, in keeping with IRS tax policy.
Even if they are not technically income for state constitutional purposes, they clearly are income in the eyes of the IRS. Why doesn't the state auditor, who has a free car, too, report this? And is the state reporting this benefit for ALL state employees who are provided free cars that they are able to use for personal purposes? And what about the counties? And the cities? I suspect observance of the law is haphazard, at best.
• The great immigrant bashing caper. The deadline to file petitions for constitutional amendments was July 2. Secure Arkansas, the virulently anti-immigrant group, claimed it made the 77,000-plus standard with a few hundred votes to spare. The so-called Christians of the right-wing Family Council pitched in with last-minute help.
But wait. Secretary of State Charlie Daniels actually counted the signatures submitted, using an independent accounting firm. By the independent count, the Secure Arkansas petitions came up some 10,000 short. That is, they were short in actual signatures. No attention was given to whether these were bona fide signatures of registered voters.
Something smells here. It can be illegal under certain circumstances to make false statements in public filings. I'm not saying that happened here. But this is a pretty big flub, even for a disorganized group prone to wacky conspiracy theories and led by a woman who referred to that group that meets biennially in the state Capitol as the "Arkansas congress."
But skepticism is in order. Petition gatherers know that you can pad petitions with bogus signatures to meet the minimum then, if some are disqualified, get 30 additional days under the law to gather qualified signatures. It's an extended period available ONLY to those who first submit the minimum.
It's important to know precisely what happened here. The secretary of state should endeavor to see if misrepresentations were made, or whether it was simply a matter of dumb arithmetic. Secure Arkansas has some explaining to do. They are the ones who resent giving Arkansas college scholarships to nearly lifelong Arkansans with sparkling high school records who had the misfortune of being brought to these shores as infants by parents seeking a better life. If this terrible illegality must be stamped out, so, too, must false swearing, if it has occurred. To borrow their own rhetoric: What part of accountability doesn't Secure Arkansas understand?
• The great city hall malfunction. When Little Rock police and fire agree to give up pay raises, you know there's independent agreement about the sorry state of city finances. The city is, however, about two years too late in making the case for justifying all its existing expenditures and, if they are justified, making the case for a sales tax increase to pay for them. That's what strong leadership is about, Mr. Strong Mayor.