Louisiana’s Questionable Spending Continues

Lake Charles no longer has a downtown YMCA, but New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Bogalusa will have even better ones — thanks to the generosity of the state of Louisiana.

The State Bond Commission approved Priority 1 projects in the capital construction bill last week and $3.7 million in Act 22 is going to YMCAs in those three cities.

Meanwhile, an effort to restore the local YMCA building severely damaged by Hurricane Rita in 2005 was unsuccessful, and restoration is no longer in the cards.

State Treasurer John Kennedy asked about some of the questionable projects approved last week and got the same answer each time from different officials, according to a report about the commission meeting in The Advocate of Baton Rouge.

What they basically said was, “It wasn’t us; it was the other guy.”

Paul Rainwater, commissioner of administration, said the projects were approved and received some funding during the terms of governors in office prior to Gov. Bobby Jindal.

“Those are projects that we’ll have to honor, Rainwater said.

Jerry Jones, assistant commissioner in the Division of Administration, said the old projects predate current rules that force local projects to undergo a detailed analysis and local matching funds.

State Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Livonia, said some of the projects may not have been scrutinized.

Gross understatement

“May not have been scrutinized” doesn’t quite explain what happened. The projects were sponsored by state legislators with political stroke and everyone else looked the other way, including some of those governors Rainwater mentioned.

Jindal doesn’t get off scot-free either. Don’t believe for one minute that every questionable project that has gotten in the budget since Jindal took office in 2008 has been as closely scrutinized as those officials have said. Legislators who wield considerable political power still manage to get dubious projects funded or expanded.

Among the questionable projects are some that are tied to religious organizations. I’m a lifelong Methodist, but I wonder how $300,000 for Centenary College in Shreveport and $150,000 for the Shreveport-Ruston Methodist Camp got into the state budget.

And exactly what are these?

Efforts of Grace Inc., $910,000; Reconcile New Orleans, $625,000; Options of Tangipahoa, $1.8 million; Family Center of Life Inc. of New Orleans, $100,000; Trinity Christian Community of New Orleans, $900,000; Triumph of Special People Inc. of Jefferson Parish, $370,000; Allume Society of Vermilion Parish, $200,000; Chez Hope Inc. of St. Mary Parish, $100,000; the Colomb Foundation of Lafayette, $370,000; Mercy Endeavors of New Orleans, $405,000; Progress 63 Inc. of Baton Rouge, $90,000; Teche Action Board Inc., $1.5 million; and Home Away From Home Inc., $90,000.

Most communities in the state fund their own economic development activities, but look at these that got state funding this year:

District 2 Enhancement Corp. of New Orleans, four appropriations totaling $1.7 million; Algiers Development Corp., $2.6 million; and New Orleans Neighborhood Development, $350,000.

You can’t help but love the verbal interchange that took place between Kennedy and Jones when Kennedy asked about $140,000 going to Kingwood Homeowners Association of New Orleans.

“It’s a fence at Kingwood subdivision,” Jones said.

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Kennedy said. He then wanted to know if Kingwood is a private subdivision.

Jones said it probably is.

Even though these projects may have started during a previous administration, wouldn’t you think people like Jones who have been in state government a long time would have a better handle on such things?

Rules ignored

We haven’t talked about a number of appropriations in the state construction bill that are going to local governing bodies or agencies. Legislators talk about those when they can’t justify projects like the ones we listed here.

Rural areas do lack the tax resources of urban areas and probably deserve state help from time to time. But the criteria Jindal officials talk about isn’t being followed with them either.

Jindal said during the 2008 legislative session he would veto projects that didn’t have a regional impact, that weren’t a state agency priority and that weren’t openly discussed during the session. It hasn’t happened, and here is what the Associated Press said after that session ended:

“While Gov. Bobby Jindal enraged lawmakers by stripping millions of dollars from their favored projects in this year’s budget, he only struck at less than a third of the add-ons crammed into the state’s spending plans.

“Jindal cut $16 million in legislative projects in the $29.9 billion budget — out of at least $55 million in earmarks that lawmakers included.”

Southwest Louisiana legislators get a minimum number of these projects because most of them try to play by the rules. And in the end they are forced to vote for the projects because they are in a bill that funds millions of dollars for legitimate construction projects in their areas.

The system by which state money is spent on questionable projects stinks. And the smell isn’t going away until the governor and the Legislature follow the rules Jindal laid down.

This deceptive and unjustified spending has been going on since it was first used as a bribe to pass a tax in 1984, and that’s a sad commentary on the political life in Louisiana.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].

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