SADOW: Why Are GOP Senators For Subsidizing NOLA Scofflaw Pols?

Another round of debate over the tough love Louisiana’s State Bond Commission has had to dish out to New Orleans only clarified the rectitude of that action – even as some Republican politicians – particularly senators – who should know better were ready to abandon that.

Last week, the SBC narrowly continued a request for the city’s Water and Sewerage Board – which actually is a hybrid state/local agency – to secure a line of credit. This initial step for a project is the most nebulous in the entire process, where approval carries no guarantee that a project even will more forward. Still, it must be secured in order for a project needing borrowing to proceed, which on two occasions now the SBC has failed to do.

The controversy began when city elected officials, as well as those of other agencies who boundaries follow the city, officially declared that they wouldn’t enforce, unless incident to something else, the state’s laws on abortions. Those performing an abortion face criminal penalties unless if done to save the life of the mother or unborn child or if the unborn child’s prognosis for survival after birth is zero.

That led last month to the SBC to deny the SWB’s request, although it approved a couple of others related to that. However, this item deals directly with general fund dollars appropriated by the same Legislature that passed the laws dealing with abortion, and delaying it also wouldn’t cost anything extra. The majority asked that a city official appear to explain its position, which it didn’t.

Then, and now, the Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration and its partisan allies on the SBC have opposed the delay, using terrifically disingenuous argumentation along several lines: (1) that a delay conflates a social issue preference with one of fiscal governance, (2) that it interferes with the city’s capacity to respond to future weather emergencies, (3) that this allows state policy-making to intrude on local decision-making, and (4) it addresses a non-issue since allegedly no abortions are occurring in New Orleans at present.

To the contrary, the issue is entirely about the respect for the rule of law and strikes at the heart of how federalism has become defined legally in the American system of government. Simply, local governments are there to carry out the objectives of state government, acting as appendages to implement state policy in a local setting. When a local government refuses – and not just implicitly, as city elected officials promulgated official documents refusing to enforce the law as a primary offense, and the district attorney and sheriff have chimed in with support of that – to carry out the law as the people of the state will it, and then want to have state backing in carrying out its duties, state agencies have every right, if not duty, to act in a way that tries to broach that refusal. It is anything but “political theater,” as Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne inappropriately attempted to trivialize the matter, but represents a response to an attack on a profound issue of governance.

Neither does the red herring of whether abortions at present occur, which apparently the promoters of this as a defense of the city’s action think negates the defiance, apply. Setting aside the fact that no official can make this statement with any certainty – illegal abortions could be happening in the shadows at any given moment encouraged by the guarantee that city law enforcement won’t patrol for that nor would any arrestees be prosecuted – whether these are out there doesn’t matter. It’s the violation of the principle that matters and must draw a reaction to prevent degradation of the rule of law.

The issue never has been about differing views on abortion restrictions or its prevalence; had New Orleans declared it wouldn’t enforce a state law that prohibited spitting on the sidewalks, the same principle applies. The issue is all about the rule of law and proper implementation of federalism. Indeed, as member Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry pointed out, federal grants require that recipients pledge they will follow the law as a condition to receive the funds.

Nor does a delay by the SBC demonstrate any negligence in preventing flood control. The onus rests upon not the SBC to allow funds to address this, but upon New Orleans officials to do their jobs correctly to earn the trust of the people of the state whose representatives must approve the state’s imprimatur on the potential bond issuance. It is city officials’ dereliction of duty that brings this consequence, and all they have to do to change that is to rescind their official statements.

Disappointingly, some members who should have known better couldn’t grasp this fundamental. For example, Republican state Sen. Bret Allain appeared confused about state/local relations, and Senate leaders appeared to choose members (the panel’s voting members change constantly, depending upon whether the officials listed by law as members wish to delegate their authority) willing to vote in favor of sending the item forward.

Landry proposed, then withdrew, a motion not to do that until a formal rescinding occurred, so the panel took up a motion by GOP state Rep. Zee Zeringue to delay again in the hopes of city officials rendering an explanation. Last month, only the pair of Edwards representatives opposed the delay, but this time with a differently-composed SBC the delay passed only by one vote, with Dardenne, the governor’s general counsel Matthew Block, and all senators present – Allain and other Republicans Franklin Foil and Barry Milligan plus Democrat Jimmy Harris – voting against.

The final vote tally would indicate that GOP Sen. Pres. Page Cortez, who ultimately controls who shows up for these meetings on the Senate side, appears ready to abandon an important principle behind the American system of government. The public should take notice of this prior to next month’s SBC meeting.

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