Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Is 30 Crossing Unconstitutional?

People of the all-highway-expansions-all-the-time persuasion have been saying that AHTD's hands are tied on 30 Crossing. Even if they wanted to do something innovative, the law authorizing the money only allows for highway construction and expansion. As any curious citizen would do, I pulled up the 2012 constitutional amendment passed by the people of Arkansas instead of just taking the highway engineers at their word. Low and behold, my reading of the law suggests they're wrong-- we could do something innovative and forward thinking with the money besides mindlessly making a bad road bigger. But, that's not the point of this post. In response to the questions of 'why I-30 and why now?' the highway folks have said once again that their hands are tied. The voters specifically called for the money to go to I-30 in downtowns LR and NLR, they say. But again, I couldn't find any evidence of that in the language of the amendment. But again x 2, that's not the point of this post. I'll address those another day. For now, here is the point for today's post:

EXPANDING I-30 IN DOWNTOWNS LITTLE ROCK AND NORTH LITTLE ROCK VIOLATES THE PLAIN LANGUAGE OF AMENDMENT 91 TO THE ARKANSAS CONSTITUTION AS APPROVED BY THE VOTERS IN 2012.

If you're saying "Pshaw! That's hogwash," then honestly, you're probably right. However, at this moment in time I can't figure out why you're right and I'm wrong. So, in the interest of covering all possible permutations of the truth, here's how 30 Crossing is unconstitutional...

Just a wee bit o' background first.

The good state Arkansas allows its constitution to be amended in a few different ways: (1) direct action by the people (picture that danged pot amendment that can't get its wording up to a level of perfection sufficient enough to satisfy the grammar police in the Attorney General's office), (2) Constitutional Convention (we tried this once in the 70s I think. It didn't work), and (3) via the legislature referring amendments to We the People for our vote. That last one is what happened with the amendment that's compelling you to pay for the $500+ million I-30 embiggenment here in the capital city and North Little Rock. The state house and senate passed and Governor Beebe signed House Joint Resolution 1001 in the spring of 2011. That document spelled out the language of Issue 1 which appeared on our ballots in November, 2012. We voted for it roughly 58% to 42%. The language then became Amendment 91 to our adorably long constitution. (the relevant text begins on Page 132 at that link) Finally, the new law took effect, our sales tax rate went up, money changed hands, roads got built, yada yada yada. Here we are today.

And the meat

Everything seems to be working fine-ish, right? So what's the big deal? Well, let's take a gander at what the voters of Arkansas actually put into our constitution in 2012. Here's the 'intent' section, with highlighting by me. Click to make bigger:

For the reader who sees the problem and likes to jump to conclusions (though is that person even reading anymore?), we could stop right here. But, a mere statement of 'intent' to construct four-lane highways doesn't really represent the substance of the law, so let's keep going for the more contemplative among us. Here's part of Section 3, the Definitions section:

Seeing a pattern yet? Basically, that section says that a 'four-lane highway improvement' covers everything related to four-lane highways. Unfortunately, the amendment does not define 'four-lane highway', but any number of online dictionaries provide workable interpretations:

Ok, so 'four-lane highway' means a highway with two lanes for traffic in each direction. 2+2 = 4. Simple enough. 

The amendment allows bonds to be issued. What can those bonds be used for? Unequivocally, four-lane highway improvements, as defined above.

The amendment caused an Arkansas Four-Lane Highway Construction and Improvement Bond Account to be set up and funded.

And, as if we needed permission, it provides a clause allowing the tax payers of Arkansas to enforce the amendment if the State messes up:

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To summarize: the people of Arkansas thought there weren't enough four-lane highways connecting all the regions of the state, so in 2012 we passed a law telling AHTD to build and improve four-lane highways across the state. There's just one teensy tiny little bitty 100-foot-wide problem with how that's being implemented though. Interstate 30 is not a four-lane highway:


Seems to me that the voters wanted AHTD to use this temporary source of money to build highways to and around places like El Dorado and Jonesboro and Bella Vista and Sheridan and all points in between. This was so clearly the plan that they passed a constitutional amendment with numerous references to 'four-lane highways.' Not six. Not eight. Not ten. Not 'multi'. Not 'four or more'. Not 'at least four'. But simply four. In other words, precisely one more than the length of the count prescribed in the Book of Armaments for the Holy Hand Grenade.

Instead of maximizing funding to those four-lane highways as the voters demanded, the biggest chunk of everyone's money is getting dumped into one of the most expensive construction jobs in AHTD's history in a city that's been served by multiple interstates for decades. This single 7 mile stretch of highway enlargement will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million, or about 1/3 of the Connecting Arkansas Program's total 10 year budget. 

Interestingly, whoever wrote the copy for the Overview section of the Connecting Arkansas Program website conveniently left off the 'four-lane' modifier when describing the types of highways the amendment is supposed to fund:


Maybe that was just a simple oversight.

So what's next? If some taxpayer in the state of Arkansas would file a complaint in the Circuit Court of Pulaski County we might quickly find out if 'four-lane highway' means a 'highway with four lanes' or something wider. Who's up?

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Caveat: The argument I attempt to make above is so blatantly obvious that my first and strongest reaction has been to think that surely I must be wrong. I can't figure out why though. So, all of the above is presented by someone who fully expects a fatal flaw in the argument to be pointed out about 30 seconds after I hit the 'Publish' button.

5 comments:

  1. Like you I'd hate to count my chickens before they hatch, but um, that reads like gold to me. 4 lanes ain't 10

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  2. I'd be interested in pursuing the legal option via the Circuit Court of Pulaski County but my limited experience with the legal system would probably mean that someone else would be better suited to this task. Let me know if there is any way I can help.

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    1. Thanks DJP. I've been enjoying your blog, btw.

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  3. Um, has the money spent so far only gone to 4 lane highways?

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    1. Nope. It doesn't require too much of a leap to go from 'interesting idea' to 'whoa, this could open up a big can of worms' does it?

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