Monday, May 27, 2024

The Audacity of “Nope”

Clay Davis approves.

Yesterday afternoon, House Republicans prevented the passage of House Bill 1193, the appropriations bill for the Arkansas School for the Deaf, because the bill contained a spending increase.

Of $6,389.


Oh, sure, $532.42/month may not sound like much, what with it being just over $4/student per month, but you just don’t get it. Explains Rep. John Burris (R-85, Harrison), “”We’ve had a very, very, very fair standard since the session started. Every single bill that’s been voted down has had a spending increase. I’m very disappointed that someone would make this about a particular agency or a group of people. It’s a debate about the budget, and it’s about increased spending.”

Exactly! It’s about “increased spending.”  But does that include increased spending such as — oh, I don’t know — the $300 increase from his 2009-2010 monthly “reimbursements” that Rep. Burris took in 2011? Or the $200 per month increase Rep. Jane English (R-42, North Little Rock) took this year? Or the $200 that Rep. Allen Kerr (R-32, Little Rock) took? Or the $300 that Rep. Stephanie Malone (R-64, Fort Smith) took? Or the $150 Rep. Donna Hutchinson (R-98, Bella Vista), Rep. Debra Hobbs (R-96, Rogers), and Rep. Ed Garner (R-41, Maumelle) got?

In case you are wondering, that’s $1250 per month in increased spending taken by legislators who voted against increasing the appropriations to the School for the Deaf by less than half that amount.

Oh, but wait — this money is different, because this money is a reimbursement, right? Well, that depends.

Primarily, it depends on whether you think billing the state between $1200 and $2350 per month to rent part of your own home or own business to yourself, without ever documenting what your actual expenditures were in a given month, becomes a “reimbursement” simply because you use a nominal third party to collect the money. Maybe I am crazy, but that doesn’t sound like any reimbursement that I’ve seen.

Let’s take a look at the “reimbursements” of thirty Republicans who either voted against the bill outright or (in a more cowardly move) voted “present.”

Rep. Duncan Baird (R-95, Lowell). $1200 monthly reimbursement paid to Baird Management, LLC, which was founded in January 2009, the same month Baird took office. Baird is the registered agent for Baird Management, and the company’s address is the same as Baird’s home address. [Baird’s numbers are based on his 2009-2010 forms, as an updated form was not available when I requested the information. –Ed.]

Rep. Nate Bell (R-22, Mena). $1200 monthly reimbursement paid to Quad B Specialties, LLC, for which Bell is the registered agent.

Rep. Lori Benedict (R-82, Sturkie). $1200 monthly reimbursement paid to Mountain Home Flight Service, Inc., of which Benedict is president.

Rep. Mark Biviano (R-50, Searcy). $1200 monthly reimbursement paid to JSZ, LLC, which was founded on January 26, 2011 (five days before the invoice was filed with the state), by Mark Biviano and uses Biviano’s home address.

Rep. John Burris. $1500 monthly reimbursement paid to John Burris d/b/a Conservative Strategies, which is an unincorporated business owned by Burris and for which no Google results exist.

Rep. Ann Clemmer (R-29, Benton). $2200 monthly reimbursement paid to Ann Clemmer d/b/a Ann Clemmer Consulting, which is an unincorporated business owned by Clemmer at her home address. It does have a yellow pages listing.

Rep. Charlie Collins (R-89, Fayetteville). $1200 monthly reimbursement paid to LCWC Consulting Services, LLC, which is owned by Collins’ wife, was founded on 1/24/2011 (seven days before the invoice was filed), and uses Collins home address as its primary place of business.

Rep. Gary Deffenbaugh (R-66, Van Buren). $1350 monthly reimbursement paid to Khaki Services, LLC, which was created on 1/4/2011, lists Deffenbaugh’s wife as resident agent, and uses Deffenbaugh’s home as its primary place of business. (Deffenbaugh’s invoice original said “Representative Deffenbaugh, LLC” as the payee, but that was crossed out and replaced by Khaki Services.)

Rep. Jane English. $2250 monthly reimbursement paid to EJE Corporate Services, Inc., which lists Jane English as President and Incorporator, was incorporated in December 2008 (English first took office in Jan. 2009), and lists English’s home address as its place of business.

Rep. Ed Garner. $2350 monthly reimbursement paid to Mama’s Manna, Inc., of which Garner is President.

Rep. Jeremy Gillam (R-49, Judsonia). $1200 monthly reimbursement paid to Gillam Farms, which is owned by Gillam’s family.

Rep. Kim Hammer (R-28, Benton). $2050 monthly reimbursement paid to Kayla Lawrence, 2011 Harmon Dr., Benton, AR 72015, who is Hammer’s daughter.

Rep. Justin Harris (R-87, West Fork). $1200 monthly reimbursement paid to One Line, LLC, which was formed on January 21, 2011 (ten days before invoice was filed), by Harris’ wife, Marsha, and which uses Harris’ home address as its place of business.

Rep. Debra Hobbs. $1350 monthly reimbursement paid to Career Select, LLC, which is a management service owned by Hobbs.

Rep. Jon Hubbard (R-75, Jonesboro). $1200 monthly reimbursement paid (according to the hand-scribbled invoice) to Masree, LLC, which does not even exist, according to the Secretary of State’s website.  (I wonder who cashed the check, then.)

Rep. Donna Hutchinson. $1350 monthly reimbursement paid to DJ Consulting of NWA, LLC, which was created in November 2006 (Hutchinson first took office in January 2007), lists Donna Hutchinson as registered agent, and lists Hutchinson’s home address as principal place of business.

Rep. Allen Kerr. $2250 monthly reimbursement paid to Allen W. Kerr Insurance Agency, Inc., which lists Kerr’s home address as principal place of business and lists Kerr as President, Vice President, Treasurer, Controller, and Tax Preparer.

Rep. Stephanie Malone. $1500 monthly reimbursement paid to SSM Political Consulting, which is an unincorporated business that uses Malone’s home address as its principal place of business and does not have a presence on Google.

Rep. Loy Mauch (R-26, Bismark). $1200 monthly reimbursement paid to Mauch Consultants, which is an unincorporated business that uses Mauch’s home address as its principal place of business and does not have a presence on Google.

Rep. Andy Mayberry (R-27, Hensley). $2050 monthly reimbursement paid to Mayberry Advertising, which is an unincorporated business that uses Mayberry’s home address as its billing address, has a place of business in Little Rock, and is owned by Mayberry and his wife.

Rep. David Meeks (R-46, Conway). $2050 monthly reimbursement paid to Naomi Meeks, Inc., which was founded by Meeks’ wife on January 7, 2011. Unlike most invoices submitted by the legislators on this list, Meeks’ is not for “legislative support services,” but, rather, for “legislative consulting services,” which were apparently provided by his wife at their home address. Why Meeks needed $2000 worth of legislative consulting from a certified nurse’s assistant who did not even note the actual hours spent consulting is a separate question, I suppose.

Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-47, Greenbrier). $2050 monthly reimbursement paid to Stellar Political Consulting, LLC, which was created by Meeks on January 19, 2011, is based out of Meeks’ home address, and was predicted by this blog to have been formed primarily to bill for reimbursements.

Rep. David J. Sanders (R-31, Little Rock). $2050 monthly reimbursement paid to Arkansas Opportunity Group Limited, unironically formed with Sanders as registered agent on January 27, 2011 (five days before date on invoice) and using Sanders’ home address as its primary place of business.

Keep in mind, these amounts do not include mileage or per diem; those are reimbursed separately, with an actual accounting of mileage driven and days for which each legislator was entitled to per diem. No, the above amounts are entirely for “ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties” according to the reimbursement statute. Yet I note that not one of these people, save possibly Rep. Hammer, is renting from a true third-party, meaning that they could all charge themselves whatever rent they wanted (up to the maximum) for use of a space they already own. I would think that legislators who so openly profess to want to cut government’s wasteful spending would charge themselves the bare minimum necessary in rent in order to keep costs down.

Of course, I would also assume that cost-cutting legislators would have chosen one of the two lower base amounts ($485 or $545/month) rather than the highest ($1200) when they all knew that they would be “renting” from themselves. On the flip side, if they were going to choose to charge the people of Arkansas a couple grand per month to theoretically maintain an office in their home, I would think that they would be a little less vocal about “wasteful” government spending and how it needs to be cut. I mean, maybe it’s just me, but I find it very, very hard to listen to rampant hypocrisy, which is exactly what I hear when you claim that the state cannot afford to give the Arkansas School for the Deaf $6,389 more this year while, at the same time, the group of you who are making that claim are collectively taking home $37,150 PER MONTH.

Finally, it would seem like legislators interested in true government transparency would attempt to provide an actual accounting of costs each month rather than simply toss out a single number unsupported by any reference to true costs.  After all, whether we’re talking about your own house, your daughter’s house, or some section of a business you already own, it stretches belief well past its breaking point to suggest that a legislator is running up over $1000 (or even over $2000!) per month maintaining an office in his or her district unless he is (a) gouging the state on the cost to rent his home to himself or (b) he’s making an amazing number of color copies and phone calls.  But that’s what they would like us to believe, I guess, because that’s what calling it a “reimbursement” means — it’s only reimbursing you if you’ve incurred costs in that amount.

If you haven’t incurred these costs, then it’s not a reimbursement so much as …

To Be Continued.

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