SADOW: Landry Delivers Warning on Dubious Line Items

On a small scale with appropriations bills, Republican Gov. Jeff Landry gave warning he was going to party like it was 2008.

This week, Landry revealed his line item vetoes of HB 1, HB 2, and HB 782 – the general, capital outlay, and supplemental appropriations bills, respectively. The governor has the power to excise individual items in each, which historically never have been overridden.

He didn’t pare much. HB 1 lost four items worth $2.125 million, HB 2 had three items lopped off worth $1.75 million (although one item was a bureaucratic direction), and HB 782 saw 16 items off into the ether worth around $3.5 million.

In his veto messages, he conveyed a rationale and a warning: “We reviewed these appropriations to determine if they serve an appropriate government function and if the appropriation was an efficient and effective use of state resources. Prior to next legislative session, we plan to work with the legislature to develop criteria for what type of NGO [nongovernmental organizations] requests represent the best use of our scarce state recourses.” This suggests that the knife will cut more sharply and deeply in the future, but for now giving leeway to current requests, until exacting criteria emerge.

The key phrasing dealt with NGO use of “state resources.” Projects aiding local governments went unperturbed, but private entities received scrutiny, and most of those removed went to agencies with a local, sometimes very specific, impact. About the only three that could have reflected more broadly was $1 million that would have gone to Catholic Charities of Acadiana to run a regional homeless shelter, $1 million to the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities for disaster preparation and mitigation along with more general cultural preservation objectives, and $500,000 for Teach for America (in two items) to subsidize activities in low-achievement schools.

However, Teach for America in the past has received contracts through the Department of Education, not direct operating funds. The LEH request appealed to the receded Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and unspecified and contingent future disasters. While the Catholic Charities item dealt with operating a homeless shelter, a few others doing the same went through, yet the Acadiana group did receive a capital outlay request for a food pantry allied with its shelter.

This fulfillment of a capital outlay request while denying operating expenses wasn’t isolated. A politically-connected NGO in Monroe, the Opportunities Industrialization Center Incorporated of Ouachita received big bucks for building purposes, but found a small request for operating expenses out in the cold, without apparently formally filing out the form required since 2009 demanded by the Legislature of all NGO requests.

Others neglecting similarly, for example both vetoed items in HB 2 with attached dollar amounts, explained some of the excisions. That simple explanation seemed to escape the state’s mainstream media and far leftist-funded media, which stumbled around trying to find political motives behind those and the big ticket items, suggesting some regional or partisan animus behind the selections, even as what did get excised seem more exceptions than the rule. Still, given the very heavy-handed and partisan manner in which Landry’s predecessor Democrat former Gov. John Bel Edwards behaved with his vetoes, it might have been expected.

That formal request process came about as a result of the 2008 slaughter initiated by Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal. As the session began, his first after election, Jindal set out criteria that NGOs had to meet not to see their requests vetoed. Apparently, a number of groups, as well as many legislators in what was then Democrat-run chambers with a long history of approving huge numbers of items and total dollar amounts, didn’t take him seriously enough since lots of groups didn’t relay to him explanations along the lines of his approval or even any information at all. Thus, he ended up hacking away 283 items, and subsequently, the Legislature began a formal submission process that exists until today.

Landry has given notice that he plans something similar. In 2008, Jindal shunted away around $30 million in questionable or unjustified spending of tax state dollars and an unknown amount of these – because those kinds of requests never got submitted – in his other seven years. Landry will be wise to emulate him through promulgation of standards that he can apply in the same manner in the future.

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