Louisiana’s legislators should give a task to the Legislative Auditor as soon as possible to ensure wise spending of precious Wuhan coronavirus pandemic recovery dollars.
Earlier this month, a KEEL radio talk show host noticed essentially duplicate signs along stretches of highway. She made inquiries to the Department of Transportation and Development, and received explanations from both the regional spokeswoman and the department Secretary himself, Shawn Wilson. They said signs could need better reflective qualities at night or font changes, but she noted no font changes and wondered why reflectivity changes could not occur on the existing signs, saving at least some money.
Shreveport area legislators weren’t amused when contacted about this. They expressed skepticism that the money needed to be spent, and one conjectured that the funds for this came from federal grant money that it would have to use or lose.
This demands review by the Legislative Auditor to understand the rationale behind the expense that gives additional information to legislators for future budgeting decisions. More importantly, it should spur an agenda to review how CARES Act and other separate federal government pandemic aid to Louisiana ended up used. That Act alone shoveled around $1.8 billion to the state with much spent on balancing and enlarging the state’s operating budget, and another portion shunted to local governments which an Auditor’s report reveals face financial pressures.
Unfortunately, such largesse creates perverse incentives. As an example, with such money in hand, in order to maintain full staffing levels with pay the Fairfax, Virginia schools, which have gone to an all-online instruction format during the pandemic, have school buses running empty and cafeteria workers sitting idly at home.
Rather than make meaningful cuts to wasteful programs – subsidizing movie-making, paying people to work less and less productively, and giving people health insurance they can afford on their own spring to mind as obvious areas to trim or eliminate – Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards just loaded in more spending despite the revenue hit the state will take from the pandemic’s negative economic impact (exacerbated by Edwards’ scientifically inexplicable refusal to cede control over the economy). Foolishly, Republican legislative majorities agreed to this budgeting fiasco, although they may repair that with a special session starting soon.
However, they can compensate partially for this mistake by having the auditor vet carefully state and local expenditures of these funds. While they can do little to stop funds from going out the door, the promised transparency with an eye towards pointing out flagrantly wasteful practices may modify executive agencies’ and local governments spending choices, knowing that they may receive budgetary punishment in the future if caught spending stupidly.
CARES Act money could have gone towards shoring up Louisiana’s unemployment compensation fund, imminently approaching a zero balance, that instead will require increased taxes and reduced benefits, or on any of a number of other needed items. Anything that would discourage money from going out the door needlessly before year’s end will save taking unnecessarily from taxpayers in the future.