They just couldn’t help themselves and, worse, it reeked of hypocrisy when $30 million of slush fund money was shoveled back into the 2010-11 budget for Louisiana as the close of the session.
As previously noted, it wasn’t a great budget that had gotten decided by the Legislature, but one redeeming quality had been its lack of “member amendments,” or line items that direct money to private and public entities in legislators’ districts. Yet defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory when, apparently at the insistence of the House, items for its members and the Senate were plugged into the ancillary budget bill HB 76 and passed.
The hypocrisy of it all should not escape notice. The House had been stumping for a more fiscally conservative budget and its leaders asserted this as its reason for resisting the more free-spending Senate’s version for so long, but it seems one of the sweeteners to get the House to concur on a plan much closer to the Senate’s version than its was to allow this extra spending into the budget. Thus the presumed chamber of fiscal probity sold out completely and Senate Pres. Joel Chaisson seemingly correctly called the other chamber’s bluff.
Yet the Senate joins the House in a more general hypocrisy in that this was money that could have gone to more important needs when some were being cut dramatically, rather than for city walking paths, band instruments, or cattle fences. The money was siphoned out of the Overcollections Fund, in essence a holding account for presently-unencumbered funds attached to statutory dedications that, depending on circumstances, may in the future be called in to fulfill their legal purposes. So if the Pres. Barack Obama Administration’s war on free enterprise and political point-scoring cause the bankruptcy of BP and thus the flow of compensation to Louisiana, monies that could have gone to dealing with the oil spill instead will not be there courtesy of this gorging at the trough.
While legislator defenders of them say these things represent good causes – meals to the elderly, tourist attractions, educational programs, etc. – and help local governments that can’t finance stuff on their own, the merit of these stands independently of the process that allocates money to them. Why doesn’t the state simply set aside $30 million and create a grant process shielded from political influence that picks the most worthy projects for funding? Because then legislators could not take credit for “giving” something to their districts and the electoral benefits that conveys, but obviously this represents a far more politicized process.
So the brightest silver lining to this low-achieving budget get obliterated. Perhaps Gov. Bobby Jindal will salvage something out of this by liberal use of his veto pen (perhaps spurred by thought of payback, he’ll wipe out $13.6 million of these), but that’s just putting a finger in the hole in the dyke while true reform that would end these slush funds still waits for the light of day.