Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is considering a run for president, didn’t fund a presidential preference primary for Louisiana and Secretary of State Tom Schedler said Wednesday he won’t hold one.
“I want to have a presidential preference primary as long as you pay for it,” Schedler told the Louisiana House Appropriations Committee during the panel’s department-by-department tour of Jindal’s budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
State government has come up $1.6 billion short in the money needed to pay for services, leading to a budget proposal replete with deep cuts in services and unpopular options for raising revenues.
Historically, Louisiana legislators make minor tweaks in the governor’s proposed budget, then after several months of deliberation, approve how state government can spend public money for the upcoming fiscal year.
The second day of hearings focused on Jindal’s proposal for funding agencies run by officials elected statewide, as opposed to other executive branch departments, which are managed by members of the cabinet appointed by the governor.
State Commissioner of Agriculture Mike Strain pointed out that the agencies run by the statewide elected officials have been cut 39 percent during the past seven years while the budgets for the other departments have grown by 40 percent.
Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said he’ll have to lay off workers.
“We have a lot of micromanaging going on, when it comes to our statewide electeds,” said Rep. Walt Leger, a New Orleans Democrat who is the second highest ranking official in the Louisiana House.
The Secretary of State’s office is slated to receive $75 million next fiscal year, down from $79 million last year. Schedler said that he also will have to close down a voter outreach program and limit most museums to one day weeks and won’t run any elections in 2016.
“He hasn’t funded elections past December,” Schedler said about Jindal. A presidential preference primary would be held in the spring 2016 and would cost about $3.5 million.
Jindal leaves office in January and says he is praying about running for president in 2016. Recent polls show Jindal is unpopular with a majority of the state’s voters.
Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said in a prepared response to a question to Jindal’s office: “Obviously we think the primary is important to give Louisiana a voice in the process. We think the Secretary of State should find other ways to balance his budget and fund the primary.”
Democratic state Rep. Katrina Jackson, of Monroe, said Jindal’s action would take Louisiana out of the national dialogue. “We become a nonfactor with this budget the way it is,” she said.
“Eliminating Louisiana’s voice in the choice of our next president is unacceptable,” New Orleans state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who chairs the Louisiana Democratic Party, said in a prepared statement.
“One must ask the question — is he doing this because he knows he couldn’t win in his own state? How much more will Louisiana have to sacrifice at the altar of Bobby Jindal’s presidential ambitions?”
The Department of Agriculture & Forestry receives $71 million in Jindal’s budget proposal, down from $77 million last year and down from $114 million in fiscal year 2009. The department would have 553 authorized positions, which is down from 1,274 positions in 2005.
Strain said that he is not legally free to move money around and fund programs that will suffer from the lack of state money. The funding for the programs is often restricted, so he will have no choice but to close them or severely limit their work.
“I can’t take pesticide funds and use them for forestry,” Strain said.
But, he said, his staff is carefully going over the wording of those laws and regulations to see how much, if any, wiggle room is allowed so that money can be moved from or into various programs.
He also is looking at increasing fees, but already has kickback from businesses that don’t want pay additional fees, which are supposed to go into improving regulatory oversight, only to have that money swept into the state general fund, where it can be used for any expense at all.
State Rep. James Morris, R-Oil City, recommended that Strain get some T-shirts made for his employees that say “I am not a boll weevil.” “I think they’re trying to eradicate you my friend,” Morris said, referring to the Ag Department’s successful program to eliminate the pest that was the scourge of the state’s cotton crop for decades.
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