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Blanco has chance to walk the walk with line-item vetoes

So Gov. Kathleen Blanco starts getting some political heat about her saying one thing, getting rid of budget categories that steered state money to local requests at the whim of legislators with her permission, then doing another, permitting he same kind of items back into the budget and saying she had no real plans to scrutinize them any more than in the past. Then she turns it up so more on herself by blaming the situation on state Treasurer John Kennedy, who noted that he has no formal power in the area, but who then accepted her invitation to come up with a list of line-item vetoes.

The biggest project on the $9.2 million list is the $500,000 going to the Louisiana Leadership Institute, the child of state Sen. Cleo Fields to steer money into his district for “a nonprofit organization providing programs and services to build leadership, improve academic skills, increase self-esteem and inspire motivation in Baton Rouge area students.” Apparently, fielding a prize-winning marching band is one strategy to boost this self-esteem: the group’s band won the “Battle of the High School Marching Bands” last November in Carson, CA, winning money to buy new uniforms and instruments even as tens of thousands of taxpayer’s dollars were spent to send the band there while the state struggled to recover from the hurricane disasters. (Meanwhile, third place Monroe’s Carroll High School didn’t get anything extra from the state.)

Fields was somewhat upset by Kennedy’s recommendation, acknowledging that maybe he ought to find non-governmental sources of funding if there was going to be some much capriciousness in the process. It’s rather interesting that Fields only now has come to some realization that he ought to wean the organization off of taxpayer dollars, since he’s been doing the opposite for many years – the group got $75,000 in 2001, $200,000 in 2002, $300,000 in 2003, $500,000 in 2004 and 2005, and the $500,000 this year plus two other separate line items worth an additional $200,000.

This item is an excellent example of what ought not be in the budget. If the state thinks sending bands to California is a service it ought to be performing, then either it should create a program in state government to do this so that this can face legislative and/or bureaucratic scrutiny, or it should create a competitive grant program to have nonprofit organizations accomplish this. Earmarking money straight out of the general fund with next to no oversight on its use is just bad public policy.

If this is indicative of the other 200 items listed by Kennedy, vetoing the entire contents of his list would show that Blanco just doesn’t talk the talk, but walks the walk when it comes to making Louisiana government more efficient – especially when the state remains a supplicant to the federal government for disaster-recovery funding.

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