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Sore lawmaker puts politics over constitutional integrity

Gov. Bobby Jindal reacted relatively quickly to presentation of HB 1, the state’s operating budget, in casting his line item vetoes. In particular, one of them rankled an opponent who tried to accomplish surreptitiously and unconstitutionally what exposed to the light of day was defeated.

That concerned the item on p. 176, lines 6-11, which would take a part, $27 million, of the general fund allocation to pay for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Scholars and shunt it into Go Grants, already allocated just a little less than that, if later this year the voting public passes SB 53, a constitutional amendment that would divert money presently going into the Millennium Trust Fund to fund TOPS. Go Grants are state need-based aid to attend college while TOPS is a merit-based program to pay for college tuition.

The only problem with that was, as worded, it’s unconstitutional, as Jindal noted in his veto message with the constitution’s prohibition of contingency spending.
In order to fund fully TOPS, as the current diversion from the MTF amounts only to about $15 million annually, Jindal acquiesced to the Legislature’s taking nearly $82 million from the Mega-Projects Fund, designed to pay entities to locate business activities in Louisiana, put it into the Overcollections Fund, then have TOPS siphon it from there. If the amendment passes, then over time with that general fund allocation not needed for TOPS, the Legislature promised Jindal it would put the money back.

This move upset state Sen. Lydia Jackson, who said Jindal was being inconsistent in his treatment of contingent items and that if the amendment passed, it would “overfund” TOPS. Of course and not atypically, Jackson was wrong and/or disingenuous. Nowhere else in the budget did that kind of contingency language occur, and whenever it came up during the process Jindal had altered any such language, so he acted perfectly consistently. Nor would TOPS be “overfunded,” as by the gentlemen’s agreement to return it to the MPF.

But what Jackson did not volunteer was the vetoed language paralleled what she tried to amend into SB 53 in committee. Narrowly rejected there, she tried again on the Senate floor with an amendment that was defeated decisvely. So, in an unconstitutional form it made its way into the budget, which he thwarted, causing Jackson in reaction to say he had been all for raising tuition but not need-based aid.

The truth, which Jackson does not want to be known, is that Jindal merely safeguarded constitutional integrity and prevented a backdoor maneuver opposed by a majority by a disgruntled legislator that would disrupt a deal already made. To her, it’s more important to try to paint an unflattering picture of her political opponents in order to score political points than it is to respect the results of the policy process and to follow the state’s constitution.

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