American citizens in Puerto Rico are suffering, but unlike when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the victims can’t drive across the border to a welcoming state like Arkansas. Texans, Floridians and others are hurting from hurricanes, too, and Californians have lost their homes due to wildfires.
In such situations, should members of Congress vote for any aid package, even if they think it’s a bad one?
Rep. French Hill, R-Arkansas, said no last week. The congressman who represents central Arkansas was one of only 69 members of the U.S. House who voted against a bill providing $36.5 billion for relief and recovery efforts after Hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma and the California wildfires. The package drew a yes vote from 353 members.
Democracies require a balance between skepticism and trust. Voters must be skeptical of those they place in power, lest it be abused. But without trust, institutions can’t function democratically.
All that said, I’m erring on the side of trust this time – this time being Rep. Bruce Westerman’s Resilient Federal Forests Act.
Forestry policy is probably not an issue you’re following closely, but here’s why you should care. This year, 8.5 million acres of forestland have burned – an area four times the size of Puerto Rico. Thirty-one Californians so far have died in fires that are burning right now. The fires have destroyed homes, killed livestock, and released millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Continue reading Only Bruce can prevent forest fires→
Spending other people’s money can be pretty easy, especially if you tell yourself you have the authority and it’s for a good cause. In other words, we probably haven’t seen the last of the Legislature’s spending on local projects.
Here’s the back story. On Oct. 6, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that legislators can’t direct state surplus dollars to so-called General Improvement Fund (GIF) projects such as rural fire departments and libraries.
The ruling was the latest curve in a long legal road that began with a 2005 lawsuit by former legislator Mike Wilson. After the Supreme Court twice ruled in 2006 and 2007 against GIF funding, legislators instead sent the money to eight nonprofit regional planning districts that would decide how it was spent.
Only that’s not really what happened. As the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has detailed, the planning districts often rubber-stamped the wishes of individual legislators. The Democrat-Gazette reported that taxpayers have spent more than $50 million on these projects just since 2013.