LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court said Thursday an appeal by the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock of a judge’s 2015 ruling that their payments to local chambers of commerce and other groups were illegal must be dismissed because such payments are legal now.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce ruled in 2015 that annual payments the cities were making to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Metro Little Rock Alliance, the North Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and the North Little Rock Economic Development Corporation amounted to unconstitutional use of public funds.
Pierce issued the ruling in a lawsuit by Pulaski County residents Jim Lynch, Tony Orr and Glen Miller that challenged the payments. The judge issued an injunction barring the cities from making any more such payments. The cities appealed.
In November 2016, voters approved a constitutional amendment, referred to the ballot by the state Legislature, that allows local governments to appropriate taxpayer dollars to private groups such as chambers of commerce for economic-development services.
The Supreme Court said in a unanimous opinion Thursday the passage of the amendment has made the appeal moot.
“Because the constitutionality of appropriations to entities for economic-development services has been established by the amendment … any decision based on an older version of the amendment either affirming or reversing the circuit court’s decision to enjoin future appropriations for economic-development services would have no practical legal effect because such appropriations are now constitutionally permissible,” the court said in the opinion written by Justice Josephine Hart.
The state’s highest court sent the case back to circuit court and directed Pierce to dismiss the appeal and lift the injunction.