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Jindal makes progress with item vetoes, but more remains

Another year, another set of line item vetoes for Gov. Bobby Jindal to cast, and those that he did indicate he’s still selectively serious about priorities in state spending. Last year, Jindal got rid of over 250 items. This year’s (not including all the contingency items in HB 1) number were only a little more than a fifth of that total, in part no doubt because Jindal showed he meant business last year.

HB 881 served as the main vehicle for what are now called “member amendments” (those placed in on request of a legislator for a nongovernmental or local government agency), for which Jindal has stated certain criteria will serve. While a few of the vetoes were technical funding matters from the previous year, on the remainder and those for local governments, Jindal stressed several themes, beginning with they had to be submitted formally which a few were not:

Regional or statewide impact by an NGO. For example, money for Scouts organizations and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts which are centered around small areas of the state were jettisoned. Requests from urban areas, in number of requests and their sizes, particularly were at risk, despite some organizations having affiliations with politically well-connected individuals. Several of these appeared to have multiple grant opportunities from other governments to access.

Attempts to go outside department budgets. If it seemed like it should have been budgeted within funds already appropriated for program operations within a state government agency, Jindal rebuffed it such as in higher education and Treasury.

Persistence didn’t count. Four separate appropriates in very disparate places for the District 2 Community Enhancement Corporation were spiked.

Other local government resources. For example, while monies were allowed to go to a passel of economic development districts and other small local governments for their general activities, a direct appropriation to the Calcasieu Police Jury to run a mayhaw festival was denied as was one for the city of Monroe to deal with Black Bayou, along with one for land for a boat launch ramp in Luling, and one for a film projector and screen for the Beauregard Parish Police Jury to show children some movies. When specified, infrastructure-related projects fared much better than those requesting money to operate recurring programs.

Some were interesting. A roughly $884,000 appropriation Jindal vetoed from the Public Service Commission, ostensibly to fund inspections, because it duplicated something in HB 1, may have been a backdoor attempt for the PSC to gain funding to pay railroad crossing inspectors, a bill to do so having been defeated in the Legislature. Two attempts totaling of $150,000 on behalf of the Louisiana Museum of Arts and Sciences, Inc. were blighted, while the same amount went through for the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame and Museum and a lesser amount to Shreveport's Sci-Port. The Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations, headed by a former Jindal cabinet secretary forced to resign after her handling of last year’s hurricane evacuations, found $100,000 chopped from its request. A local economic development nonprofit having as officers state Rep. Walter Leger and his father who sits on the Louisiana Recovery Administration board got denied $120,000. Even Jindal ally Speaker Jim Tucker got a $200,000 line for blight remediation and $300,000 for the Algiers Development District sliced in order to “ensure a balanced budget.”

Outside of these, the most substantial veto was that for the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital. Jindal had opposed the continuation of this, desiring to move operations across Lake Pontchartrain for efficiency’s sake, but intense lobbying by the New Orleans legislative delegation convinced the Legislature to buck that request. But Jindal will appear to get his way on this. (He did not, however, have a chance to veto money for another state-run institution that the state wished to sell off, the John J. Hainkel Home and Rehabilitation Center as that was folded into larger expenses of the Department of Health and Hospitals; the Legislature also blocked this but it was warned the governor might authorize its closing to save money.)

To sum, as he did last year Jindal proved he said what he meant when it came to the kinds of spending he would tolerate regarding local governments (beyond other revenue-sharing procedures) and that going to nongovernmental agencies. A small does of politics may have emerged into the process as well, given disproportionately the NGO deletions hit areas represented by Democrat political opponents of his, but in large part they also disproportionately made requests that seemed to invite Jindal to veto them by his standards. So to some degree, Jindal’s success here can be measured by the number of amendments that never got attempted, discouraged by his previous fortitude.

Still, given the nature of some things that were vetoed, more could have been. If a renewed seriously is conveyed by his actions, perhaps even fewer will be attempted next year. The next logical steps are in two directions, a reconceptualization of revenue-sharing policy to make moot the necessity of any amendments dealing with local government requests, and a restatement of policy regarding the activities of NGOs. Presumably, they get funded because they perform an important task. Why should not formal policy be articulated that either transfers similar, mainly social service, functions being done by government presently to NGOs, or the reverse? Transparency and accountability would be best served this way instead of this hybrid system.

Regardless, what efforts Jindal has made have altered the political landscape. With members less able to bring back projects and tout this ability for reelection purposes, policy becomes elevated in the minds of voters, meaning legislators become more likely to act in the people’s interest rather than self-interest.

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