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Unexciting, but needed LA accountability reforms wait

Reform runs strongly in the veins of the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration, as its efforts on ethics and budgeting already reveal. So there’s no need not to extend its reach into a couple of procedural areas of legislative business that will increase the accountability of state government.

One involves a minor step taken during the recently-concluded ethics special session that provided a kind of brake on the practice of vote changing in the Louisiana House of Representatives. Past rules allowed a member to change his vote on a matter if notifying the body prior to the end of the legislative day and it did not change the outcome of the vote. This permitted members to vote tactically to please both sides of arguments, attempting to create conditions where they got the outcome they wanted but for the record casting a vote for the opposite, blurring accountability.

House Speaker Jim Tucker, with Jindal’s blessing, pushed through a rule to minimize this, but the rule will not stop it completely because it makes the motion to change debatable and still permitted automatically if nobody asks for debate. Why not go with the Senate rule which completely forbids the motion? Surely a reform-minded chamber such as the House demonstrated itself to be should approve of this in the regular session.

Of much greater monetary concern and one applying to both chambers is the capital budgeting process. The state’s Constitution by statute caps the amount of money the state may spend on capital outlays utilizing tax supported debt. But the Legislature routinely loads up its capital outlay bill far in excess of that amount, thereby defaulting a final decision on what gets approved by what gets put forward to the State Bond Commission which in practical terms means the governor has the final say given the presence of his allies appointed by him or from elsewhere on the Commission. This invites the political proclivities of the governor to have disproportionate determination of the final budget.

This is not to say that politics isn’t involved in budgeting: quite the contrary, governmental budgeting is entirely a political exercise. The problem comes in the blurring of lines of accountability, because legislators can claim they voted for and got put into the budget certain items to enhance their reelection prospects, yet substantively the real party responsible for budgeting in large part then becomes the governor.

A simple reform would be in legally dictating that only a certain proportion of funds reflecting the maximum allowed new debt can be parceled out, with perhaps a smaller fraction available as a “bullpen” of projects that could be funded if a successful line-item veto or Bond Commission refusal opens up money to be spent. This would take away the governor’s opportunity to favor some projects over others, but still allow him to remove projects he found obnoxious (provided there is no line-item veto override over them, which in fact never has happened).

In practical terms, that would remove some political power from the hands of Jindal. But his commitment to more rational government reflecting priorities of the whole rather than of special interests ought to encourage his backing of such a reform, similar ones of which have been proposed in the past on more than one occasion.

While not as flashy as some other reforms that draw more publicity, nonetheless these are a pair that should be pursued by Jindal and his legislative leaders.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Removing any power from the governor of Louisiana is a good thing. For far too long, the governor has had disproportionate power in this state.
This is not aimed at the current governor, but at the office.