More in line for scholarships

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Seth Blomeley


Gov. Mike Beebe announced Tuesday that more students will get lottery-funded scholarships than initially thought.

An additional $5.9 million in lottery proceeds will fund about 1,000 scholarships of $5,000 each at four-year institutions and 400 of $2,500 each at two-year institutions, Beebe’s office said.

The money will go to students in the “nontraditional” category, which generally includes students who have left school for a period of time and are returning for more studies, Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said.

That will leave about 3,800 qualified students in the nontraditional category who will not get scholarships for the 2010-11 school year, he said.

All qualified “traditional” students (those beginning college for the first time right after high school) and qualified “current achiever” students (those already in college and aiming to continue) received scholarships, the state has said.

Beebe’s announcement that he had asked the state Department of Higher Education to release the extra $5.9 million came after an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article Tuesday noted a discrepancy between two agencies in the amount available for scholarships from the first nine months of the lottery’s operation.

The department believed $76 million was available. But a Lottery Commission spokesman put the amount $6 million higher at $82 million. DeCample said the governor learned from the newspaper about the higher figure.

“As recently as last week, correspondence from the Lottery Commission to the Department of Higher Education was using the lower number,” DeCample said. “It was just not updated.”

But when asked whether the commission had advised the governor of the higher figure, lottery spokesman Julie Baldridge cited a July 14 letter and report to the governor and to the chairmen of the legislative Lottery Oversight Committee, Sen. David Johnson, D-Little Rock, and Rep. Barry Hyde, D-North Little Rock.

That material contained numbers on pages marked as “preliminary,” and on Page 9 it listed $82.8 million as the amount available from the lottery for scholarships. It was the ninth point of a 13-point report.

Higher Education Director Jim Purcell, who answers to Beebe, said his agency received an e-mail Friday from Timothy Parrish, lottery treasurer, placing the amount available for scholarships at $76.7 million.

Purcell said the lottery’s deposit into the scholarship fund reached $82.8 million as of July 14. He said he didn’t learn about that figure until Tuesday from the newspaper. He said the $76.7 million was the figure through June 30.

Parrish’s e-mail was in response to Harold Criswell, the Higher Education Department’s associate director, who had asked for the amount available for scholarships “as of June 30.”

Baldridge said Parrish “is a CPA and was answering the question literally and exactly on the amount in the fund as of June 30, I expect.”

DeCample acknowledged that the governor’s office received the July 14 report from the commission. He said he’s sure the governor’s office paid attention to it.

“It was just unintentional miscommunication,” DeCample said. “At the end of the day we got it straightened out, and we’re getting the money to the students.”

Sen. Shane Broadway, D-Bryant, who took a lead role in crafting the scholarships for nontraditional students, said officials working on the lottery legislation in 2009 and 2010never expected to cover all of the nontraditional students applying for scholarships.

“I think there was an expectation [among some in the public] based on the lottery campaign and the discussion surrounding it was that anybody that qualified would get a scholarship,” Broadway said.

He said legislators in 2009 set the maximum amount to be spent for nontraditional scholarships at $12 million. But when more money than expected came in from lottery ticket sales, that cap was removed earlier this year. Legislators also added the “current achiever” category.

Broadway said that’s more than a lot of states with new lotteries have done.

“Most states when they started out just covered freshmen,” he said. “We were one of the few that tried to expand it as far as we could.”

The number of nontraditional students who would apply for scholarships was the hardest thing to anticipate, he said.

“We were all surprised by the number of applications,” Broadway said.

Some students have complained about a ranking system used to decide which qualified nontraditional students get scholarships and which don’t.

That system factors in the student’s closeness to completing a degree, his grades,and the demand for the student’s field of study. Broadway said that system has been in place about 10 years, since before the lottery proceeds helped fund the Academic Challenge Scholarships. He said it was put in place in case there were revenue shortfalls for scholarship as happened in 2000.

About 25,853 lottery scholarships have been awarded. The additional $5.9 million will raise the total to about 27,230.

There were 54,533 applicants, meaning about 30,000 were rejected. Those included those who didn’t qualify academically or didn’t properly fill out their applications.

Lottery sales totaled $373 million in fiscal 2010. Prizes totaled $228 million.

In addition to the $82.8 million from the lottery, the Legislature provided $20 million in general revenue to the Academic Challenge Scholarships, according to the Bureau of Legislative Research.

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who led the campaign in 2008 to get voters to approve a constitutional amendment for a state lottery, said the process needs to be improved.

“Very clearly you would want the Department of Higher Ed to get the decisions on scholarships for the current achievers and nontraditional students much earlier,” Halter said.

Broadway said a fourth category of the lottery scholarships may have to be created, one that breaks out part-time students from the larger category of nontraditional students.

Hopeful offers plan to clean up Congress

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Michael Wickline

Democratic congressional candidate Joyce Elliott said Tuesday that she has a “Clean UP Congress plan.”

Under her plan, she would not accept automatic congressional pay raises, proposes requiring departing congressmen to wait five years before they may become lobbyists and aims to cut the federal travel budget.

A state senator from Little Rock and a former public school teacher, Elliott released the plan two months after she told a luncheon crowd in Little Rock that she is not running against Washington, saying “any pinhead can do that.”

“I know reform in the way we run government is something that is important to people and it is important to me,” she explained Tuesday in an interview. “ … these are the things I want people to know about, what my major issues will be regarding cleaning up government. People deserve better than to have government they think they can’t trust, and I really do want to help restore that [trust].”

Under her plan, if congressmen believe they deserve a raise, then legislation for it would be introduced and voted on, she said. Whether she would vote for a raise would depend on the circumstances, she said.

Elliott suggests making former congressmen wait three more years before they may become lobbyists, saying the existing two-year “cooling off” period isn’t long enough.

Elliott wants lobbyists to be required to disclose publicly each meeting they have with a congressional office, she said, arguing that people have a right to know who’s meeting with their congressmen and that each meeting should be a matter of public record.

It’s time for federal employees to “pay their fair share” toward their pensions, Elliott says. She points out that the existing system is generous and is funded with an estimated $14 of taxpayer money for each dollar of employee contribution. The system needs “to strike a better balance” to reduce taxpayers’ costs and give employees greater freedom, including a fully portable 401(k)-style system.

Congress should have to balance the federal budget each year, Elliott said. To help out, she suggests capping the budget for all federal travel agencies at $8 billion. She said the move would save almost $10 billion over the next 10 years. Elliott said she would push for legislation called the Earmark Transparency Act, originally sponsored by Republican U.S.Rep. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, to create “an easily accessible universal database that will allow voters to educate themselves on every spending and earmark request to any committee in either the House or the Senate.”

In March, the House Appropriations Committee implemented a ban on federal earmarks for a for-profit private company, but Elliott says that doesn’t go far enough.

In response, Republican congressional candidate Tim Griffin said, “It is good to see that my opponent has changed her mind and now agrees with me in opposing taxpayer-funded bailouts and voting herself pay raises.

“I hope she changes her mind and decides to oppose earmarks and refuse the congressional pension,” said Griffin of Little Rock, a lawyer and former U.S. attorney and former aide to President George W. Bush.

Elliott and Griffin are vying with Green Party candidate Lewis Kennedy of Conway and independent candidate Lance Levi of Little Rock to succeed departing 2nd District Congressman Vic Snyder, a Democrat from Little Rock, in the Nov. 2 general election.

Beebe has more than $3M on hand for re-election

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

The Associated Press

Gov. Mike Beebe is reporting that he has more than $3 million in the bank for his re-election bid.

Beebe’s campaign on Friday reported that it had raised $374,105 in July and spent $100,539. Beebe is a Democrat seeking a second term.

Beebe has raised more than $3.7 million since launching his re-election bid earlier this year.

Beebe is running against Republican Jim Keet, a restaurant owner and former state legislator. Keet has been trailing Beebe in fundraising and last month reported having $59,000 cash on hand.

Keet raises $33,310 in July

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Arkansas News Bureau

Rob Moritz

Republican Jim Keet raised $33,310 in July for his gubernatorial campaign, according to finance reports filed today.

The former state senator reported having $47,440 in the bank at the end of the month for his bid to unseat Democratic incumbent Gov. Mike Beebe in the November general election.

Last week, Beebe reported raising more $358,000 during in July and having more than $3 million on hand.

Keet’s finance report showed he spent $48,914 in July.

Since his campaign began, Keet has raised $155,891 and spent $119,149.

In the lieutenant governor’s race, state Sen. Shane Broadway, D-Bryant, reported raising $56,669 in July and spending just under $7,000. He had $207,286 in the bank at the end of the month.

Republican Mark Darr of Rogers reported raising $16,651 in July and spending $16,683. He had $62,649 on hand.

In the state treasurer’s race, incumbent Democrat Martha Shoffner had more than $103,000 in the bank for her re-election bid at the end of July, according to campaign finance reports.

Shoffner’s opponent, Green Party candidate Rep. Bobby Tullis of Mineral Springs, reported that he had not raised any money but used $3,930 of his own money to purchase a print ad.

Today was the deadline for state candidate to file their monthly fundraising reports.

Shoffner’s campaign reported raising $4,000 in July, including $2,000 each from the Bank of Oklahoma Political Action Committee and the Bank of America Political Action Committee.

Shoffner’s campaign reported spending $750.

In the secretary of state race, Pulaski County Circuit-County Clerk Pat O’Brien, a Democrat from Jacksonville, reported raising more money than his Republican candidate Mark Martin in July.

O’Brien reported raising $11,300 last month and spending $5,395. He ended July with $11,986 in the bank.

Martin, a term-limited state representative from Prairie Grove, reported raising $10,748 and spending $1,004 in July. He reported $28,404 in the bank.

Court rejects gay-marriage ban

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Washington Post

Robert Barnes and Sandhya Somashekhar

A federal judge in California ruled Wednesday that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the constitutional right to equal protection.

Judge Vaughn Walker wrote that Proposition 8, which voters approved as an amendment to the state constitution in 2008, “fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license.”

“Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same sex couples,” wrote Walker, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. He was appointed by President George H.W. Bush.

The amendment outlawed same-sex marriage five months after the state Supreme Court legalized it. Walker was asked to decide whether limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection.