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Jindal must lead on pay plan, school funding issues

Government bodies raised stakes in the ongoing grappling regarding Louisiana’s current and looming budget deficit, and Gov. Bobby Jindal needs to respond.

Last week, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, despite a request by the Jindal Administration not to do so, decided to boost spending for the upcoming fiscal year, about $100 million, after not doing so last year for this current year. This area of the budget, known as the Minimum Foundation Program, has its amount and distributions to districts and other schools determined by a complicated formula from BESE the results of which can be accepted or rejected, but not amended, by the Legislature. If all plans are rejected by the end of the session, the previous year’s applies.

Meanwhile, in the wake of Jindal’s veto of a state pay plan for next year more closely based on performance that Jindal said offered insufficient flexibility for state budgeting, the State Civil Service Commission said it uniformally would withhold pay raises to all classified employees. Jindal could do this in fact by not budgeting money for them (with legislative approval) as happened last year for this fiscal year, but this did not stop some agencies from shifting funds around to give some anyway for this year, so this order would prevent agencies from doing that for next year.

The SCSC said it would approve this on Friday, and hinted that a blanket prohibition might have something to do with Jindal’s rejection, indicating that it was unwilling to review the issue again anytime soon, meaning in time for the next fiscal year. This puts some pressure on Jindal, who, if he could get a plan to his liking through in time, then could budget in a way selectively to permit the giving of some raises. Otherwise, he might get blamed by these employees for the flat prohibition and suffer loss of political capital.

It would be a shame for the reform momentum to be lost, so Jindal, which at this point he seems disinclined to do, should make another effort to get his preferred plan through in time for the next fiscal year. Part of the complaint from the SCSC seems to be a lack of guidance from him, and, if that’s true, he needs to provide it. A reminder to the six of its seven members he appoints that they will be eligible for reappointment sometime soon also might light a fire under the body which seems reluctant to approve the more radical reform plans that Jindal seems to prefer. To not try otherwise for swift resolution makes Jindal simply look obstinate after his latest rejection and the one before that combined with the assertions by the panel that he refuses to lead.

As for BESE, Jindal should remind the Legislature that $100 million to compensate to keep the budget balanced will have to come from somewhere and his line item veto may come into play in ways they may not like in order to do it unless they reject this request. He also should drop some hints to the six (of 11) members of BESE that consistently have voted against reform measures in addition to driving the increase request that they could face some tougher opposition in their next election bids around the corner unless they get with the program.

In both cases, Jindal must lead or else perceptions of his ability to do so and his program for more efficient state spending become threatened.

1 comment:

Jeff Sadow said...

Although they are often paid scant attention to, resolutions by the Legislature can matter significantly. This news article points out that last year's SCR 17 will allow an automatic 2.75% boost to spending if no action is taken on the MFP request. Thus, there must be an outright rejection of the initial request for this not to take effect.