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Jindal veto vigor necessary, endangers legislative careers

Just how dumb or illiterate are some Louisiana state legislators? Gov. Bobby Jindal certainly gave them an opportunity to wise up with his raft of line item vetoes to the state’s appropriations bill HB 1

On Apr. 30, Jindal issued a letter outlining clearly and succinctly criteria he would use in making these decisions, they being the project must have a statewide or substantial regional impact; have been presented or openly discussed during the legislative session; be a state agency priority; and must have the proper disclosure form published online prior to consideration for funding. Scrolling through the list of requests, matching them to the actual line items, one could see a train wreck approaching.

As with the supplemental bill which Jindal also trimmed, in some cases, the item was missing on the list. In a few others, the list information mismatched with the item. But a significant number unambiguously were local in nature.

So what do we make then of state Sen. John Alario’s complaint that Jindal went too far when he, for example, vetoes local government requests for playground equipment, prompting Alario in high dudgeon to declare, “I think they've gone farther than what the ground rules were. If you're playing a game, you ought to play by the rules.” I guess we make that Alario is an idiot: what definition of “local” does he see as a synonym of “statewide” or “substantial regional?”

We can understand part of Alario’s thinking by his very comment likening the process to a “game.” To legislators of Alario’s ilk, they see the entire scenario as a game, played by legislators where the object is to squeeze out as much state money as possible into the hands of local interests. Do enough of that, and you “win” the game by getting reelected. This idea stands as a principal tenet of their entire governing ideology.

By contrast, Jindal sees this exercise not as a necessary, much less a desirable, feature of modern governance. He sees it as an affront to taxpayers whose hard-earned money should go to statewide priorities instead of ending up subsidizing local concerns. As Jindal rightly pointed out, these vetoes don’t mean the projects themselves necessarily aren’t desirable, it’s just that there is no moral reason state government should pay for these when legally it is not compelled to do so; these are matters outside the proper reach of government or are properly handled by local government.

If supporters of these feel differently, they are free to pass laws mandating such state spending, in the process inviting the establishment of procedures to prioritize and to direct the spending with appropriate auditing. But that’s not what the Alarios of the world want, nor the likes of state Rep. Patricia Smith who called the criteria “unrealistic,” who was the queen of these items with 13 requests totaling $3.3 million out of the roughly $53 million requested, and who suffered 10 vetoes for $705,000 (requests often were parceled into multiple items). Their entire worldview about how government works is that it is there primarily to redistribute money from certain constituencies that they think have too much to those they think deserve more (naturally, theirs). They base their electability on this stunted, improper understanding of the purpose of government: they get votes by promising to bring home the bacon.

Understand then the upset of these characters stems not so much from their disagreement with Jindal’s informed philosophy of the purpose of government, but from the fact that it threatens their reelections. They now cannot with certainty go to certain groups and promise rewards for their elections. More than ever they will have to stand on their ideas to get elected and constituents will be more inclined to elect legislators on the basis of their ideas. That may not favor Alario, for example, whose ideology if compared to voting behavior by his constituents for other offices would indicate he is out of touch with them.

That Jindal did precisely what he said he would do, with plenty of clear warning, shows he is very serious about changing the “government as fatted calf” culture – making it imperative to abscond more and more of the people’s money to feed it – that all too many legislators perpetuate. To move the state forward and out of its dregs requires just such a change, no matter how many legislators get offended and whose political careers are endangered by this concept.

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