Quote of the Week:
"If you don't want to bring scandal against your school, then don't do things that discriminate against children."
— Tippi McCullough, commenting on a new policy in Arkansas's Catholic schools that seems to threaten LGBT students with expulsion if their "expression of gender, sexual identity, or sexuality should mislead others, or cause scandal, or have the potential to cause scandal." Bishop Anthony Taylor has not answered questions on the policy from the press, but he's taken a hard line against LGBT equality in the past. In 2014, when the same-sex marriage question was before the Arkansas Supreme Court, Taylor wrote a friend of the court brief that equated homosexuality with incest.
Final approval for Razorback stadium expansion
The University of Arkansas Board of Trustees approved a $120 million bond issue last Thursday for a Razorback Stadium expansion that could cost $226 million or more when interest is included.
Trustees David Pryor and Cliff Gibson again voted no, as they did when the board approved the initial plans for the project. Pryor thanked the board for allowing him to express his opposition to the project as an outsized commitment to athletics against the primary educational mission of the university.
The Athletic Department has estimated the cost of the stadium expansion — with new high-dollar club seating and a variety of improvements to office and other facilities — at $160 million. Interest on the $120 million in bonds will require $186 million in revenue. The university hopes to raise $40 million for the project from sale of new "founders' suites" that cost $3 million and up as well as from contributions from Athletic Department reserves and the Razorback Foundation. Ticket sales and student charges are pledged to the bonds, but officials have told the Times previously that the language about student charges was a standard feature of UA bonds and that no student charges were planned.
The final tab depends on the final bids for the work. Overruns are not unheard of. Also, private contributions could alter the size of the bond issue.
Pryor has raised questions about what happens should fan interest wane, either because of a preference for TV games or because of a losing team. Athletic Director Jeff Long said he was confident in the continued passion of fans to back a self-supporting roster of athletics. He also said the department had millions in TV contract revenue as a backstop.
Not a bad start
Governor Hutchinson will ask the legislature in 2017 to allocate $8.5 million in tobacco settlement money to help tackle a long-festering problem: the 3,000-person waiting list for families in desperate need of at-home services for developmentally disabled children. Some families have been waiting eight or nine years for services.
The tobacco money previously funded AR Health Networks, a health insurance program that was rendered obsolete when Arkansas expanded Medicaid to cover its lowest-income citizens. If the legislature signs on, the $8.5 million (plus another $20 million in federal matching funds) should move 500 to 900 people off the waiting list. That's not a full solution, but it's a start.
Obey my voice
According to Secretary of State Mark Martin, approval of a Ten Commandments monument proposed for the Capitol grounds is a foregone conclusion, since the legislature passed a law permitting such a structure in 2015. The Arkansas Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission met this week to consider four proposed monuments: the Ten Commandments, a goat-headed statue of Baphomet proposed by the Satanic Temple, a brick "Wall of Separation" to symbolize the constitutional divide between church and state (proposed by the Saline Atheist & Skeptic Society) and a monument honoring the families of those killed in wartime.
Because the legislature has spoken, the commission has the authority to police the design and placement of the Ten Commandments only, Martin said. The other three proposals will have to win legislative approval before they can win a spot on the Capitol grounds.
There she is
And congratulations to Savvy Shields of Fayetteville, who won the 2017 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City last weekend. Shields, 21, is a senior art major at the University of Arkansas.