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Budget woes used by opponents of Jindal priorities

While cruising through Baton Rouge on the latter part of Friday on my way to the annual meeting of the Southern Political Science Association in New Orleans, I guess I should have stopped by the Capitol because I still could have caught the last part of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget’s marathon session to approve of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recommended cuts to the state’s current year budget. This was required given the size of the proposed reductions after mandatory revenue forecasts revealed a deficit, and with it the chance for Jindal opponents to take shots at him and his priorities.

One novel tactic comes over the very definition of what is a “cut” in spending. Republican State Sen. Robert Adley, who lost power in the Senate as a result of Jindal’s election, in claims echoed by Jindal’s most prominent media critic on the left the Baton Rouge Advocate’s Mark Ballard, that since much of the reduction involve monies not spent at as high a rate as anticipated that these are not reducing spending. In arguing that the only real “cuts” mostly are coming by reducing benefits to Medicaid recipients and some social service programs with few actual layoffs in government, the implication is most of the Jindal Administration’s efforts are illusory and targeted against the disadvantaged.

But Adley has been in state government and Ballard writing about it long enough to know better. If appropriations are legally passed into the form of a budget, which is nothing more than a tool to implement a spending plan, that money is there to be spent and the only way to legally prevent that from happening is to cut the budget which will reduce that spending. Is Adley suggesting that, had revenues not fallen, this money that Jindal cut would not have been spent, and in that event would he have led the charge, for example, to freeze the thousands of open positions in government Jindal proposed as a cost-savings measure? If you can’t establish that, then what Jindal has done is cut spending and to suggest otherwise speaks more to a desire to score political points than any substantive contribution to the debate.

While it is important for legislative input into this kind of matter and some legitimate searching for information and answers was performed by committee members, it appears a lot of what went on was the pursuit of agendas in other areas. Democrat state Sen. Francis Thompson, along with others that are indicted for an alleged activity related to the state spending millions of dollars on building reservoirs that he arranged, has obsessed over improving land around those man-made lakes, and in the midst of this budgetary crisis his remarks indicated that he was, well, obsessed over golf courses in his district being affected. Some just can’t let go of the idea that a primary purpose of government is to redistribute wealth.

Others can’t let go of past defeats. Democrat state Sen. Sharon Broome, the body’s second-ranked leader, stated she was being contacted by people concerned about high salaries being paid in the executive branch. She seemed to pay much closer attention to those kinds of calls as opposed to the ones she was getting six months ago when she voted herself a hefty pay raise that it took a Jindal veto to stop.

Democrat state Rep. Karen Peterson proclaimed the state’s limited scholarship/voucher program was being unfairly spared the removal of funds present because of lower-than-expected usage, thundering she would not act to reduce other services if this were the case. Peterson, who carries water for government schools that see this program as forcing them to work harder and become less inefficient, when the time came did exactly what she said she wouldn’t, proving her rhetoric more than hollow.

She and the others had little choice. They had to accept the package as a whole or not at all, and a rejection would have forced a special session in a matter of days where real chaos could occur. Nobody wanted that extra aggravation and preferred the devil they knew in Jindal’s plan, so the panel approved without objection.

All of these opponents fear Jindal’s ability by use of this situation to remake state government into something other than the instrument of redistribution that brings them power and privilege. So far they are losing, but with a budget promising to be smaller next year to complicate matters, the battle is far from over.

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