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Loose ethics = no federal dollars

Quick, what do begging the federal government for coastal restoration funds, lobbying the executive branch, and carping legislators have in common? Well, they all boil down to a matter of trust that without is what makes getting some right things done so hard in Louisiana.

It appears, finally, that the commonsense application of lobbying regulations to the executive branch as well as the legislative branch of state government is about to happen. The administration/politics dichotomy in any executive branch does not exist as many of its members, from department head (elected or appointed) all the way down to minor functionaries who interpret regulations make policies with their decisions. Thus, they become targets for influence and the extension of the limits only can be positive.

Yet for closing the one loophole that exists, free tickets to sporting events (and cultural events, but I haven’t seen lawmakers in LSU caps desperately queuing up for the Ballet FolklorĂ­co), legislators still voice concern over not just the elimination, but even any reduction, in the $100 limit. Sen. Jay Dardenne plans to file a bill to remove it (after a similar one failed last year) and still has picked up co-sponsors equaling only about a quarter of the Senate for what should be a slam-dunk measure.

Why are these strengthenings of ethics laws in the state so important? Because Louisiana’s reputation that lawmakers play fast and loose with rules and resources precedes itself, and maybe that’s why the federal government is so hesitant to commit funds to the state for grand purposes that don’t already directly involve some interest of constituency. Witness how Gov. Kathleen Blanco has gone to the length of wanting to introduce a constitutional amendment to dedicate funding to the task, the hopes of attracting federal dollars to it.

We’ve already gto nearly three-quarters of the state budget tied into some revenue stream somewhere, and Blanco may even understand that to reduce this flexibility further is bad public policy, but, if so, she’s desperate enough to do this anyway to get this money to do it. Put simply, it’s an attempt to tell the federal government that state government actually will do with grant monies it gets what it promises to do.

It’s going to take a lot more than this tightening of ethics laws to turn that image around, but it’s never too early to start erasing the reputation that makes for a national joke.

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