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Louisiana lawmakers maneuver to keep the pork: An editorial

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Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Louisiana Legislature went after money in 40 separate special funds during the last legislative session: the government equivalent of rooting around under the sofa cushions for loose change.

Those efforts, which produced $182 million, were partly aimed at making ends meet during tough times. But they also were used to preserve as much pork as possible. That’s short-sighted considering the budget shortfall expected next year, when state and federal revenues are expected to be $2 billion less than what it costs to meet constitutional requirements and preserve the current level of services.

More than 300 line items, known as member amendments, were attached to an ancillary appropriations bill, and they accounted for $30 million in spending. No doubt many projects and programs on that list help people in lawmakers’ districts. The amendments fund things like road safety projects, playgrounds, water lines, sewerage and drainage work, police department equipment and allocations to fire departments for parishes and municipalities all over the state. They also provide money to a plethora of programs: humane societies, Special Olympics, Crimestoppers, the National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana, arts organizations and community events.

During flush economic times, paying for those projects and programs might be justified.

In fact, they might serve a more obvious purpose than some of the funds that were raided. For example, money was taken from the Reptile and Amphibian Research Fund, the Telephone Solicitation Relief Fund and something called the Right to Know Fund.

But officials also took a whopping $18 million from the Artificial Reef Development Fund, depleting money that would have paid for Department of Wildlife and Fisheries projects. It’s hard to argue that Louisiana should pull such resources in the face of the devastating BP oil spill.

Gov. Bobby Jindal did use his line-item veto to cut some of the member amendments, trimming $40,000 for festivals and cultural activities, for example, and nixing funding for two museums. But his vetoes only amounted to $2 million of the $30 million, and some of the cuts were clearly aimed at punishing lawmakers who had crossed him rather than at fiscal restraint. For example, House Speaker Jim Tucker, who voted against the budget, saw several projects in his district fall to the veto pen.

If lawmakers can’t curb their appetite for pork now, in the face of a fiscal crisis, when will they be able to do so? Money that’s pulled out of special funds now won’t be available next year when the full impact of the state’s financial woes hits. Lawmakers and the administration should have been more mindful of the future. The next time they reach under the sofa cushions, they’ll find lint.

Written by demon53

July 10, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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