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Legislators whine, do nothing about losing their pork

After a hint that they actually were growing a spine, the gutless wonders that comprise the Legislature’s Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget reasserted their worm-like backbones by using their positions to complain rather that do something substantive and helpful.

The reversion to form occurred in discussion over an over-funded capital outlay budget, pending mail ballots’ counting due today some $30 million over the $320 million limit. The over-budgeted money comes courtesy of a request to find money to fully fund building needs to entice a steel plant to locate in the state, a move fueled by generous state gifts to the company.

Ignoring the larger question of whether the state ought to be in the business of paying hundreds of millions of dollars to bribe specific businesses to locate here rather than cutting taxes to assist the general business climate to attract them here, the additional money had been left out of the current year request when the Legislature put in just enough requests and no more to claim the $320 million available. This was a departure from past practice, where far more in requests were put in, forcing the State Bond Commission to pick and choose which projects could get funded. In practice, this meant that, since the Commission had a majority of gubernatorial picks and allies sitting on it, the governor’s parameters would be followed by it in this choosing.

The highly unusual discipline displayed by the Legislature, however, would have negated this gubernatorial influence until the additional money was requested by the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration. With it, officials outlined which $30 million of projects would be asked to be moved out of this year’s spending, which they said was based upon criteria of significance of the money in significantly moving the project forward, cutting funds that did not seem to accomplish that.

The JLCB gets an opportunity to forward its own recommendations in this instance, even though it is unlikely they would be followed by the Commission if they differed from the governor’s. Still, the responsible thing to do would be to forward such alternatives if they differed with arguments as to why their list merits approval, demonstrating a seriousness of purpose in the provision of quality governance.

Instead, we got the usual irresponsible whining and moaning mainly centered on how pet projects of individual legislators bore the brunt of the cuts, with no recommendations forthcoming from the JLCB. They particularly got put off by being reminded that the distribution of cuts happened because of their time-honored strategy of trying to force enough money through in a budget year for partial funding of a project that then essentially mandates its future funding.

This got up the dander of state Rep. Hunter Greene, acting as if the proverbial wall being talked to, who said “It’s hard for me to swallow the premise that we created the problem,” and claimed he was a victim of “miscommunication” because he thought each chamber would get $15 million for pet projects out of the capital outlay bill. Of course, if local governments would pay for their own projects – which they easily can do if they are responsible stewards of local taxpayer dollars – you wouldn’t have these requests to be cut in the first place.

Understand that legislators’ animus on this came from the removal of their insertion of such projects to boost their reelection chances which has nothing to do with actual needs and priorities for state taxpayer dollars. It was only the first step in reform to cue up for spending only as much as you have. The next step is to make sure those dollars are spent only on genuine state needs, but there are too many legislators who think government’s purpose is to share the wealth in a way to keep them in office. Because of these hogs at the trough, don’t hold your breath on this changing any time soon.

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