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Costs of well-meaning IG bill more than benefits

While HB 443 by state Rep. Julie Stokes sounds good in principal, it actually serves as an example of unwise rigidity and duplication of government.

The bill would dedicate $2 million a year to the office of the Inspector General, then index the amount to inflation. This agency, whose head is appointed for a six-year term, investigates malfeasance and waste in government, created over a quarter-century ago spurred by former Gov. Edwin Edwards, whose checkered career in state government would end several years later with a corruption conviction.

Supporters pointed out that by giving the agency a stable source of funding then disgruntled elected officials subject to investigations by it could not yank its resources using the budget process. They noted the office had investigatory powers, unlike the other agency in state government with the task of analyzing actions of agencies and their people, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, which meant it had better capacity to root out corrupt activities than if it had to rely upon cooperation. The LLA also acts upon direction by law or the Legislature, while the IG can scrutinize on his own.

But, as opponents pointed out, the bill would create yet another restriction on budgeting, adding to the endemic mismatching of funds directed on the basis of priority by needs in state budgeting that helps to explain chronic deficit problems. Granted, $2 million or a pittance more, as proponents pointed out, constitutes an incredibly small portion of the budget, but every little bit does count.

Trading off a small reduction in budgeting flexibility for value added by increasing the disincentive for corrupt behavior might work if the IG proved a permanent fixture capable of doing something no other government agency could. However, that’s not the case. There’s no reason that the LLA in combination with the Attorney General or district attorneys – the LLA may receive assistance from and passes along information to these agencies if in its auditing it believes criminal activity have may occurred – can’t perform the same function as the IG, and yet the LLA relies totally on the legislative process for its funding while the AG and DAs do so partially.

And just because a funding stream becomes permanent doesn’t make the IG invulnerable. At any time, legislators, whether wishing to punish the IG for looking into their activities, can yank that funding and the existence of the IG if they want, so the measure would provide no additional protection since majority votes can make both disappear at any time.

Understood this way, the functions of the IG neither are unique or are protected in any way by this bill. With so little benefit not potentially duplicated elsewhere relative to the cost of extra fiscal inflexibility, this does not compensate for locking in even a relatively small sum of general funds. The bill’s purpose is noble, but unwarranted, and thus deserves defeat.

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