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"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The Declaration of Independence

Wednesday
Feb232011

Do we have a right to know about criminals in government?

 

Just days before the 2010 general election, the Arkansas Supreme Court found District 83 legislative candidate Tom Fite ineligible to serve in the Arkansas House because of a quarter-century-old plea bargain -- giving Fite's opponent an uncontested election victory. In early 2011, Rep. Fred Smith resigned from the House immediately after his conviction for felony theft, leaving District 54 unrepresented for the legislative session.

McDaniel: we must "protect the privacy" of criminals.Both these problems could easily have been avoided by making the criminal records of candidates and government officials available to the public on demand. In today's Arkansas Alert, Institute President Dan Greenberg makes the case for transparency of the criminal histories of government officials and candidates for office. 

If you read Why Citizens Have A Right To Know About the Criminal Records of Public Officials, you'll see that one of our state's top law enforcement officials, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, argued that criminal information that state government compiles from public documents should be kept under wraps in order to "protect the privacy" of criminal records. This paper raises several questions. Why did the state's political establishment fight so hard to block revelation of criminal records? And will the state legislature pick up the ball that it dropped two years ago by letting us know who the criminals in government are?

Tuesday
Feb222011

An online checkbook for Arkansas

As Thomas Jefferson once wrote: We might hope to see the finances of the Union as clear and intelligible as a merchant's books, so that every member of Congress, and every man of any mind in the Union should be able to comprehend them, to investigate abuses, and consequently, to control them.

That quote is stolen from the Center for Fiscal Accountability's highly informative website. Its executive director, Mattie Corrao, wrote our newest Arkansas Alert, about the importance of putting detailed state budget information on the Internet. In her paper, Corrao writes about how posting budget data online has helped bring costs down and changed the relationship between elected officials and constituents.

Her discussion of the projected costs of the project is of particular interest. Two years ago, the state agency responsible for estimating costs (the state Department of Finance and Administration, or DF&A) decided that it would cost about five or six million dollars to put fiscal data online; as Corrao notes, the cost has now dropped by approximately 90%. What a change from two years ago: it is nice to see that the Beebe Administration is treating Republicans as something other than second-class citizens. (In fairness, this year's legislation is a bit narrower than my 2009 proposal, so I would expect the cost to be smaller. But by 90%?)

If you want to understand why Arkansas legislators sometimes fear the estimates of DF&A bureaucrats, click here for a brief movie clip that gives an example of DF&A's estimation process.

Thursday
Feb172011

Waste in state government, chapter 1

Arkansas state government wastes a lot of money. This seems obvious to me, but some people disagree. In my experience, when I point a finger at some concrete example of waste in government, its defenders respond by pointing out that the program benefits people, and therefore isn't wasteful. This defense of waste fails: there are plenty of wasteful programs that benefit people. When we're trying to figure out whether a program is wasteful, we must ask: could the resources we spend on the program be more efficiently spent in order to benefit more people? If the answer is "yes," then the program is wasteful.

Today marks our first release in a series of extensive, detailed discussions of Arkansas public policy. The topic of our first "Advance Arkansas Analysis" is, generally, waste in higher education in Arkansas. The guest author, Professor of Law Richard Peltz, explains how we might take the resources we spend on two state law schools and, instead, spend them on one improved law school. In "Time For A Top-Tier Law School in Arkansas," Professor Peltz argues that we could create one statewide law school with two campuses and eliminate significant bureaucratic overhead -- which would save taxpayers a great deal of money, improve the substance and the value of the legal education of our students, and improve the quality of legal representation in Arkansas. The paper is here, and a brief summary is here. The dapper gentleman on the right is, of course, Professor Richard Peltz.

Tuesday
Feb152011

Gone, but not forgotten

The latest publication of the Advance Arkansas Institute appeared on House lawmakers' desks today, just before they voted on SB 154. The fundamental question that the bill posed: when should state government block drivers from talking on a cell phone? Read the Institute's answer here. You'll see that our paper lists several questions that lawmakers should answer before they vote on the bill. It narrowly passed the House (see how your representative voted) 52-41-5 and is on its way to Governor Beebe's desk.

 You can watch the debate here -- one noteworthy part was at 40:30, when Rep. Andy Mayberry asked if existing traffic law was sufficient to address the problem of inattentive drivers. Rep. Fred Allen responded "That's a Dan Greenberg question and I don't have an answer to it!" I suppose my best option is to take that as a compliment.

Rep. Andy Mayberry, AAI Hero

Monday
Feb142011

And so it begins.

I'm pleased to announce the very first publication of the Advance Arkansas Institute: How To Cut Taxes In Arkansas.  Earlier today, I delivered 135 copies of the paper to the State Capitol; shortly thereafter, one was placed on each legislator's desk.

I hope that the impact of the first paper of the Advance Arkansas Institute will be more constructive than the consequences of Superman's first adventure (see left).

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