That trait he put on clear display with decisions concerning HB 2, Louisiana’s capital outlay budget. Often, governors will use this power as a weapon to punish legislators who champion measures not only contrary to his worldview about politics, but also which have the potential to make him look bad.
Edwards used the power sparsely in this election year, excising only six items out of over $4 billion worth (although a distinct portion represents only a pledge, not the actual disbursement of cash or intention to issue bonds). But each sent a message.
That is, it’s bad if you’re Republican state Reps. Phillip Devillier or Dodie Horton or state Sen. Barrow Peacock. Despite frequent rhetoric about having to address deteriorating higher education infrastructure, Edwards pared $14 million to renovate two buildings at Louisiana State University Eunice, in Devillier’s district, and over $500,000 for athletic facilities at Bossier Parish Community College, in Horton’s and Peacock’s districts. He also knocked off a similar amount going to assist Acadia Parish’s public works department and prevented a quarter million dollars to build a long-anticipated park in south Bossier City.
Passing on funding the recreational items is something governors should do more of, as local governmental entities should more properly take care of these expenditures. The same applies to Acadia Parish operations. And BPCC also won’t fail to educate students by having to continue with outdated campus recreational facilities. The LSUE excisions do seem to forgo necessary, state-level responsibilities.
The problem is Edwards let plenty of similar spending go through. He singled out these projects solely to display animus against the legislators involved.
Horton has been one of Edwards’ staunchest critics, even getting into a media dust-up. Her bill to eliminate a sales tax increase he backed particularly riled him. Devillier and Peacock, whose district overlaps Horton’s, combined to put through SB 198 – Peacock’s bill originally contained uncontroversial items, but then he let Devillier graft on his HB 265 – that would require tax collectors to pay refunds when taxes are overpaid as a result of an unconstitutional law, invalid or unenforceable rule or regulation, or because of a misinterpretation of a law or rule.
Despite pressure from his legislative allies, who stopped Devillier’s version in an Edwards-majority Senate committee because they didn’t like the bill’s potential to rein in government power – prior to the new law, aggrieved parties had to go through a lengthy process that let government hang onto the disputed dollars throughout or simply discouraged their even obtaining a refund – Edwards couldn’t veto that bill because opponents to his reelection could use it against him as an example of him putting government’s desires ahead of the people’s interests. So, he did the next best thing, exacting revenge for making him swallow something against his prevailing ideology with the line item vetoes.
Finally, Edwards couldn’t resist one more jab at a frequent Senate critic (who does so quite publicly through an episodic column at The Hayride), GOP state Sen. Conrad Appel. That veto took out a public $3.15 million pavilion on the Metairie side of Bucktown. Again, while it might be better to have local governments pursue these matters, Edwards let plenty of like projects elsewhere sail through.
Edwards must hope he milks the maximum of satisfaction out of these. With the exception of the term-limited Appel, chances at this time are that Devillier, Horton, and Peacock are more likely to return to Baton Rouge in 2020 than he.