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Jindal lives up to expectations, promises on line item vetoes

Gov. Bobby Jindal had a Clintonian moment by showing up to his news conference announcing his disposition of HB 1 11 minutes late. The rest of his presentation was anything but.

Jindal meant what he said (contrary to former Pres. Bill Clinton who often said one thing then did another) that he would line item veto those projects that did not at least have a regional impact of some importance and/or were not documented properly and publicly. He thusly axed 258 items to the tune of $16 million (and said indirect savings were $27 million more), over ten times what he excised from the supplemental bill and about double the number from the last 12 budget bills combined. This in and of itself perhaps tells us there hasn’t been a lot of good prioritizing in past budgets.

Perhaps the most controversial was the indirect item veto that would have allowed chiropractic services to be claimed on Medicaid (and at a higher reimbursement rate than other medical professionals were allowed to claim). The Jindal Administration had opposed the item during the regular legislative session. Some items were multiple requests for the same organizations.

He also mentioned many other items were kept despite having a tenuous connection with the criteria, particularly the “statewide/regional” impact criterion. He said he did so because they were important and they already were contracted to do government services – but that the process should be changed so that these line items weren’t necessary. For example, he brought upon Councils on Aging and said an update of the formula that computed the contracting dollars should occur to obviate the necessity of line items. In other words, Jindal will look more dimly on such future requests and that the state should get going on making these kinds of revisions.

He said the priorities were economic development and transportation and shied away from purely local projects. Even so, many items that advertised themselves as for economic development still were vetoed. He also correctly noted that local government purchase of such items produced greater accountability and transparency, as the rationale for these would be better documented and local elected officials could be held better accountable through elections. However, most items were of nongovernmental organizations that did not appear to be at least regional in his estimation, with the usual amounts being around $25,000, give or take $15,000. As with the supplemental bill, for some the amount(s) requested appeared to be the organizations’ entire budgets.

Such a huge total leads to wondering withso many legislators hit by the slashing they might do something unprecedented in state history – call an override session. That seems unlikely, even as the pain seemed spread fairly evenly although urban constituencies cuts tended to be more frequent and for higher dollar amounts. Since a two-thirds vote is required to do override on top of the majority vote to get the session called and some legislators suffered no vetoes or very few for small items, there’s probably not enough passion practically speaking to overturn any even if a significant number of lawmakers viewed the vetoes taken as a whole in the framework of logrolling.

Provided this doesn’t happen, expect in the future of Jindal’s governorship that these requests will taper off dramatically. Legislators no longer can make what they have assumed to be promises to these groups and so either will find some regular channel in state government (which no doubt would require greater justification and audit potential than present) to try to procure these funds, or simply not to make promises at all in order to avoid disappointments. Either way, taxpayers’ dollars are put to better use and accountability increases.

Jindal meant what he said without ambiguity, and that’s a good thing on this issue.

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