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Adley finding tough sledding on outlay, gas contract

State Sen. Robert Adley has had a bit of a rough time lately, and it might get worse as the 2008 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature rolls on.

For years, Adley has wanted to change the capital budgeting process of Louisiana which presently involves a chaotic, hyper-political, and unrealistic production of items which allows for only a small portion of what actually is requested to get funded and ends up leaving the real decision into what gets funded effectively in the hands of the governor. Adley wanted to simplify the process with his SB 1 which would create a more rational categorization system, force a five-year plan, and ensure most are state items and for those that aren’t mandate local support of most.

But his bill got shunted aside by SB 808 authored by the guy who leapfrogged him (Adley is vice chairman) to be chairman of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, state Sen. Rob Marionneaux. This bill was pretty similar but Adley proposed tow changes. One would have legislative committees vet requests going to the State Bond Commission for final approval. Since in the past the Legislature sends a bloated capital outlay bill to the governor, in practice he brings forward to the Commission, on which a majority of his allies sit, the “official” list that is at or under the current mandated $200 million limit (adjusted by funds not spent for prior-approved projects, and by inflation which put last year's figure at about $267 million). This is why the governor has so much power over the final composition of the bill, and Adley’s idea was to check this by this provision; SB 808 has no such requirement.

In addition, Adley wanted to set a cap of 140 percent on the mandated limit (which would increase by the rate of inflation) in another attempt to curb gubernatorial discretion by limiting the potential amount of choices the governor in practice would make; no cap currently exists and neither does SB 808 have one. Adley tried and narrowly failed to amend SB 808 into this form, sulkily declared the final product “fluff,” and was one of three senators to vote against it.

But Adley’s pique was more about cosmetics than any real issue. His plan had real separation of powers issues that might have proven unconstitutional in practice. Further, the Legislature already has the power to control completely the capital outlay process: it simply should include projects only up to the limit, leaving the governor only with the option to exercise a line-item or full veto, both of which can be overriden. Adley was trying to legislate willpower into the Legislature using dubious constitutional means.

And it might get worse for him, as a pair of little-known bills threatens to put his relationship to a number of state entities into a potentially uncomfortable spotlight. HB 1221 by state Rep. Brett Geymann and SB 767 by Marionneaux would allow a local government to withdraw expeditiously from participation in the Louisiana Municipal Natural Gas Purchasing and Distribution Authority. The bills were brought precisely because one such government is trying to leave the 67-member organization (109 Louisiana local governments provide gas utilities) which is dragging its heels on that.

The organization contracts out its management to Pelican Gas Management, owned and operated by … Adley, for going on 15 years. Westlake thinks Pelican’s management leaves too many liability issues due to its small size. This didn’t seem to concern a majority of the Authority’s members; in fact, this spring (a month after the Legislature’s special session devoted to ethics) it skipped sending out bids for the management contract and went with a no bid contract renewal for Pelican, despite concerns from some members that they could get a better price through competitive bidding and whether Adley’s involvement ran afoul of the new ethics laws.

Instead, as other entities have begun expressing desires to leave the Authority, one member chastised others for referring to Adley as “Sen.” – even though the organization’s communicated materials are replete with references to his title. To make matters more interesting, the Authority actually is a creature of the Louisiana Municipal Association which represents the state’s municipalities – whose member governments must go through Adley’s committee to get capital outlay funds and whose employees, for ethics purposes in dealing with the Authority, are considered public employees.

Adley’s fiduciary relationship and activities with the state appear perfectly legal and ethical. At the same time, this raises questions of propriety that a state senator, the vice chairman of a committee with power over local governments no less, whose company is involved in a noncompetitive contract of substantial size ($400,000 last year) with groups comprised of these governments, ought to be in this kind of relationship. Whether Adley wants it, this question may surface as these bills make their legislative treks and as the Authority’s membership controversy continues.

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