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GOP Jindal successor hopefuls differ in early strategies

So you looked at a calendar and thought it was 2013? Guess again; it’s really 2015, you would derive from statements being made by individuals believed to have great interest in succeeding Gov. Bobby Jindal. Statements, in fact, that reveal an early strategy of building desired campaign success on criticizing their party’s incumbent governor – or not.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne is no stranger to whining about how the area over which the Constitution assigns him authority, culture, recreation, and tourism, has faces disproportionate reductions in discretional provision of services – not as much because of revenue reductions, as a large majority of the money this department in state government receives comes from dedicated sources, but because of revenue redirections permitted under law that take away his ability to spend money as he pleases. Now he’s found more reason to complain on this score.

This time, it’s because state law allows for money dedicated into a fund often used for maintenance of parks also to be used for their continuing operations, which is what Jindal proposed and the Legislature passed last year, and what Jindal has proposed that most of the money his administration forecasts will go into it does again. Dardenne moaned about how repairs need to be made to park infrastructure as a result of last year’s Hurricane Isaac, and how the redirection was cramping his style in this regard. He argued the state could make money off of the repaired facilities, which feeds back into the fund which may be needed to support operational activities, as budgeted.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, however, pointed out that in years past during his tenure that surplus balances always had been left in the fund, available for repairs. And that is the case this year as well: just over $6 million was there at the end of fiscal year 2012. Of course, the damage didn’t occur until after the end of the fiscal year, and apparently Dardenne has committed the entire balance of the fund to other things by that time. Still, Dardenne could reshuffle priorities to delay some projects in favor of this if these were repairs were so critical.

By contrast, Treas. John Kennedy seldom gripes about his spending discretion – his department’s funding comes entirely from dedications and self-generated revenues – which means since Jindal has taken office his revenues have decreased less than two percent per year (essentially, the amount of the general fund money he used to get) while his staffing numbers have fallen about the same. Instead, he likes to comment about everybody else’s. So from time to time he treats the public with a missive from up on high about how the state ought to be run, and in his latest version he also uses Jindal Administration budget numbers as a foil.

This time, he criticizes the budget for what he claimed were factoring in excessive savings from moving most charity hospitals to private management, using proceeds from refinancing the tobacco settlement bonds for continuing operations, budgeting in property sales and at what he asserted were unrealistic prices, and borrowing excess money from a special district’s overstocked fund for operating expenses.

But the long-standing problem with Kennedy is his desire to make for dramatic effect has led him to base his recommendations on a number of uninformed or mistaken premises. Nichols subsequently pointed out that Kennedy used the wrong figures on both the savings calculation and in the alleged overstatement of sale prices. Regardless, Kennedy’s critique does point out the risk that in using settlement refinancing money now it could (depending on market conditions) drain it for use later, and by having essentially to borrow money for continuing operations (because of the state’s convoluted fiscal system) this does not constitute the wisest budgeting tactic.

Understand, however, that this griping in public is not so much about trying to change these budgetary maneuvers – neither Dardenne nor Kennedy offer any alternatives to the revenue reductions that reversal of these would trigger – but to publicize their putative candidacies for the state’s top spot in two years. By these criticisms, they attempt to position themselves as knowledgeable and reasonable individuals by contrasting their preferences to ones they paint as indicative of inferior budgeting, in order to make themselves look better by contrast – even if they omit or distort crucial data that is much less flattering to the image they try to create.

Meanwhile, one other Republican reputed gubernatorial candidate of the future who holds statewide office has elected so far not to join in this strategy, but instead without a lot of fanfare has begin peppering the state with a range of policy initiatives. Agriculture Sec. Mike Strain by written and spoken means has avoided criticizing the incumbent’s budget but has concentrated on a larger theme of economic development. Serious campaigning won’t begin for at least a year, but it will be interesting to see which of these approaches, should the individuals involved continue them unabated, gains the most traction until then.

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