Zestful Jindal takes advantage of compliant legislators
In reaction to some choice line-item vetoes, no doubt detractors of Gov. Bobby Jindal will voice the usual canards about how the governor’s position in general is too powerful and specifically especially how Jindal is mean and vindictive. But if they wish to place accuracy over emotion and ideology, they’ll come to understand that the real culprits in setting up the exercise of gubernatorial political power don’t include but rather majorities in each chamber of the Legislature.
HB 1 featured ten vetoed line items, although almost all of them dealing with amendments that restricted the scope of executive branch discretion, showed favoritism to certain health care providers, or with funding legislation already vetoed. But it was items dealing with spending by the Departments of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism and Treasury that caught attention.
Out of the former, $2 million for marketing in the Office of Tourism got hacked away. For months, the official serving as the secretary of the department Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, has moaned about how the budget directed him to use part of his dedicated funding stream, from a .03 percent sales tax levy (classified as going to the Tourism Promotion District), to fund big sporting and cultural events – a reasonable use as these events attract tourists. From the latter, whose head Treasurer John Kennedy carps consistently, with ideas from the attention-grabbing while highly impractical to the competent, about how cuts can be made in government but Jindal and legislators won’t do it, got whacked around $511,000 said to be a “retirement adjustment” (meaning making up for unfunded accrued liabilities) excised because, the veto message said, the amount was overestimated from the three-year average and was inflated because it was funding four vacant positions.
In both instances, the veto explanations (which are required to be given but can be for any reason at all) showed Jindal took the opportunity to twist the knife in the back to make a political point. In Dardenne’s case for the larger of his two, the message noted that the $2 million exceeded the “official” forecast plus any fund balance. Yet how could this be the case if the budget was balanced? Because when the Apr. 24 forecast was adopted, they used the estimates from the Legislative Fiscal Office rather than the Division of Administration’s, which was over a million dollars lower. This difference, even if not the “adopted” forecast, makes the official message that the Jindal Administration foresees a shortfall in revenue collection and thereby must sacrifice something more than that amount.
Then there’s the unofficial message regarding an item whose amount not only was convenient for Jindal’s purposes, but also for its purpose – marketing, which critics of Dardenne’s asking for his unfettered use of these funds (otherwise, the events funded would have to come out of the general fund, taking those dollars away from other uses) having wondered whether they are spent for a wise purpose. After all, how many promotional trips with room and board expense accounts in the $200-day range per person do you really need to make in order to suck in tourists? In this way, Dardenne gets dinged for complaining about being denied funds when it’s suggested he’s not spending what he has in the wisest manner.
And that accusation of a whiff of hypocrisy goes double with Kennedy. Some wordsmith went above and beyond, in fact, with the exact message language to dig directly at Kennedy, for he often drones on about how in a three-year time span how not filling vacant jobs will save tons of money. Here, the jab is that Kennedy needs to apply his own words to his own glass house.
However, in these instances while it might have been Jindal to plunge the knife in, it was the Legislature that lined up the bodies, handed it to him, and said, “Be our guest.” The first several pages of the appropriations bill for general operating expenses before the actual line items is termed the “preamble,” and in it Sec. 18(F) authorized the commissioner of administration to cut out $15 million from what follows sometime during the fiscal year. And so Jindal applied it immediately, to Kennedy’s fiefdom, as well as to the much smaller of the two cuts to Dardenne’s (removing $100,000 for the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana) as part of a veto now rather than have cuts come through later next fiscal year probably spread over many more areas. In a way, Jindal took a gutsier path this way, by slicing in a more public way that could be reversed.
Because if the Legislature doesn’t like which of the backs it lined up that Jindal chose to stab, it has its own constitutional correction to that, known as the veto override session. But under the 1974 Constitution there never has been one through a combination of legislators not wanting to be bothered in the middle of summer, the threat that no vetoes will get overridden that would bring charges of wasted taxpayer money in holding the session, and that a governor would respond by in the future vetoing far more bills and lines.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 14:00