Plaintiffs in the successful taxpayers’ lawsuit over the Arkansas Department of Transportation’s illegal use of Amendment 91 sales tax money for the widening of Interstates 30 and 630 in Little Rock have asked the state to be held in contempt for failure to respond to an order in the case.
The state did not object to nor appeal a circuit court judgment that the state had improperly used money intended solely for four-lane highways to expand existing freeways, the motion said. The order directed the state to reimburse the Amendment 91 four-lane fund with $121 million spent on the widening projects within 60 days. The state has not done so, the motion says. It has objected to attorney fees sought by the winners of the case.
The highway department has said it would use money taken from the Amendment 91 fund and apply it to other projects while taking money for those projects and putting it toward the freeway construction. (This swap still meant a dramatic reduction in the money available for the $1 billion-plus 30 Crossing project, which continues apace despite an unrelated lawsuit challenging its environmental impact.)
The motion says that the eight projects identified by the state for the money swap were completed long ago. Thus, the money spent on them is no longer in state hands for reimbursing the Amendment 91 fund.
As such, it appears that Defendants’ “plan” to reimburse the Amendment 91 Fund is to use funds that (1) it no longer has and (2) spent and paid out to third parties years ago. Unless Defendants have found a way for money to be in two places at once, their plan for “reimbursement” is not actually a plan for reimbursement at all. This is expressly contradictory to statements by ARDOT regarding reimbursement of the amendment 91 fund.
The motion contends a deposition given by a department engineer “confirms that Defendants have made a deliberate and calculated decision to choose a method that does not actually reimburse the Amendment 91 Fund and is not in compliance with this Court’s Judgment that Defendants consented to.”
As a result, the motion asks Circuit Judge Morgan “Chip” Welch:
It has become apparent that Defendants have no intentions of actually reimbursing the Amendment 91 fund and complying with this Court’s order. Since Defendants have refused to reimburse the Amendment 91 Fund, the Court should order that the funds be temporarily deposited in the treasury of the Court and Defendants be required to show a full accounting of the sources of the reimbursement to be reviewed by a special master. The special master should be selected by the Court and paid by the Defendants. Upon review of the special master, the funds can then be deposited into the Amendment 91 Fund. This process will ensure Defendants’ compliance with the Court’s order while protecting taxpayers “ultimate guarantee of recourse to the courts” pursuant to Article 16, §13 of the Arkansas Constitution.
I’ve asked the department for a response.
UPDATE: The department’s response:
ASHC and ArDOT are in compliance with the court’s order.
We will respond to the plaintiffs’ motion, which seems to include a misunderstanding of the Defendants’ process and misconstrues Defendants’ compliance with the order.