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Legislature must deal with pork now, or Jindal later

If the Louisiana Legislature doesn’t clean up its own act regarding doling out taxpayer money to private entities with next to no oversight, political events may end up doing it for it.

Last year, the typically slow-reacting Gov. Kathleen Blanco administration, after failure of bills to do so and some ruckus raised outside Baton Rouge, got around to drawing up reporting requirements that recipients of state money outside of the normal budget process had to file. This irked legislators who enjoy the privilege of being able to pass taxpayers’ money along to these almost-unknown groups who no doubt remember these gifts come reelection time, with the complainers led by one of the most enthusiastic practitioners of this tactic state Sen. Cleo Fields.

Atty. Gen. Charles Foti, without the need to pass signals to putative candidates or dealing with an issue that could affect his reelection, did actually issue an opinion on the matter siding with the plaintiffs. Although it seems the crux of the matter mainly was that Blanco would hold up 80 percent of the money as use it to reimburse expenditures, the opinion also covered the very concept of requiring extra reporting.

Fields indicated that he felt it was obnoxious, if not downright nosey, of the public to question his and his colleagues’ decisions to send the people’s money to black holes: “I'm a bit tired of coming down here every session and appropriating money and then having people question what we do.” But on the off chance that a majority of the Legislature has the good sense, Fields won’t have to worry about that because the information will be all up front, at least to certain legislators.

HB 266 by state Rep. Blade Morrish would make it a matter of state law that such reporting be done for members of the respective committees dealing with appropriations. Something similar was attempted last year but political hi-jinks voided that effort and if Fields has his way, the same will happen.

But something Fields is unlikely to veto is the political tide of 2007. Or, to be more precise, can you imagine in 2008 a Gov. Bobby Jindal not brandishing a line-item veto pen (which is what Blanco should have done last year) on these kinds of obscured items? Fields may stand in the way of structural reform and better government, but despite his opposition political considerations well may produce those changes.

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