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Water bonds, longer sessions, election officials

Other issues on the ballot.



Proposed Constitutional

Amendment No. 2

One forms an idea about Amendment 2's chance of passage after calling a sponsor of the proposal and finding that even the sponsor is opposed to it.

Amendment 2 was referred to the people by the legislature. It provides for annual sessions of that body, an idea that's knocked around for years. The legislature now meets in regular session once every two years, although the governor can call special sessions when he deems it necessary. Under Amendment 2, all appropriations would be for one year only. Annual budgeting is generally regarded as more efficient than biennial budgeting.

State Rep. Eric Harris, R-Springdale, was the lead sponsor of the resolution that became Amendment 2. When Harris didn't return a telephone call, a reporter sought out another sponsor on the list, Rep. Dan Greenberg, R-Little Rock, a lawmaker seldom short of words. He had some this time, too, but they weren't the ones the reporter expected. “I'm personally opposed to the amendment,” Greenberg said. “I think it will lead to bigger, more intrusive government, more taxing and spending.”

Why did he co-sponsor the amendment then? He said he signed on as a courtesy after he was asked to do so. The number of sponsors has nothing to do with whether a proposal is approved or rejected by the legislature, he said.

Committees that will spend money in support of issues or candidates are required by law to register with the state Ethics Commission. No such committee has registered for Amendment 2. The Amendment will go quietly, it appears.

Even so, the idea is not without merit. As former state representative and retired political science professor Cal Ledbetter of Little Rock notes, annual sessions are included in every comprehensive plan for reforming state legislatures. “Corporations don't budget for two years,” he said.


Proposed Constitutional

Amendment No. 1

Also referred to the people by the legislature, Amendment 1 was sponsored by Sen. Steve Faris, D-Malvern, at the request of Secretary of State Charlie Daniels. Tim Humphries, general counsel for the secretary of state, is the foremost authority on the amendment. The primary impetus for the proposal came from county election commissions, Humphries said. The present Constitution prevents people from serving as election officials if they hold office with a water district or levee board or similar governmental or quasi-governmental group. Amendment 1 would remove these prohibitions and allow the legislature to set the qualifications for election workers. A school teacher might be prohibited from working in a school election, for example, but allowed to work in primary and general elections. Election commissions are having increasing difficulty finding election officials, partly because of new technology, Humphries said, and the people serving on local governmental boards are the sort of public-spirited citizens most likely to sign up for election duty.

At the request of advocates for the handicapped, Amendment 1 also removes old and rather offensive language that prohibits voting by “idiots and insane persons.” The law will still prohibit voting by people who've been declared mentally incompetent in a court of law. Amendment 1 also cleans up outdated language about poll taxes, and about 21 as the legal voting age.


Referred Question No. 1

This proposed $300 million general obligation bond issue also was referred by the legislature. The chief sponsor, Rep. Chris Thyer, D-Jonesboro, said he was asked to sponsor the legislation by Randy Young, director of the state Natural Resources Commission. The commission plans to use the proceeds of the bond issue to make loans to local governments for water and sewer projects, Young says. Referred Question 1 is supported by the Arkansas Municipal League, the Association of Arkansas Counties, The Poultry Federation and the Arkansas Farm Bureau.

Opponents point out that taxpayers could be left holding the bag, since the state is legally committed to pay off a general obligation bond issue if it's not paid otherwise. Young says the bonds will be paid by the higher sewer and water rates that local governments will charge. Gov. Mike Beebe supports Question 1.

Environmentalists angry over the Natural Resources Commission's financial support of the controversial Grand Prairie Irrigation Project will oppose the bond issue, which could pay for up to nearly $100 million in irrigation projects. David Carruth of Clarendon, a board member of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, says the Natural Resources Commission does not need more money to mismanage. The Grand Prairie Irrigation Project, now held up in federal court, would divert water from the White River to rice farmers in Prairie, Arkansas, Lonoke and Monroe Counties. Environmentalists say the project would have a major adverse effect on duck habitat and on the spawning grounds of crappie and bream in the Lower White River Basin. Carruth said a coalition of opponents to Referred Question 1 is forming. It likely will elaborate on perceived financial dangers of the bond issue.

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