Attempting to overhaul the way state construction is funded through the capital outlay process, some Louisiana legislators on Wednesday claimed that the Governor’s Office uses projects as leverage against lawmakers.
Two bills that sought to give the Legislature more authority over the funding process were deferred in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday after a lengthy discussion on the influence Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration wields in the process.
“I have been for a long time one of those who does not get out of the capital outlay of what my district desires or needs because sometimes I vote how I think I need to vote,” said Sen. Jonathan Perry, R-Kaplan. “The process is tainted from the start to finish.”
Jindal’s office responded, simply calling the allegations “silly.”
But State Treasurer John Kennedy also argued that the process needs an overhaul, claiming that staffers from the Governor’s Office regularly threaten to cut out projects if lawmakers don’t vote the way they are told.
“You’re totally at the mercy of the governor,” Kennedy said, noting that the system pre-dates Jindal. “It’s really gotten out of hand, and that’s why we’re going to have about a $1 billion gap.”
Overpacked year after year, the state budget for construction projects — which comes up each year as House Bill 2 — has turned into more of a wish list than a directive. It includes economic development projects, building upgrades, road projects and other improvements. Eventually, the Governor’s Office picks which projects get to tap into the limited funding available. Those recommendations then go to the State Bond Commission, on which Kennedy serves.
“House Bill 2 has become meaningless,” Kennedy said. “The bond commission just does whatever the governor tells it to do.”
Rep. Jay Morris, a Monroe Republican who was advocating on behalf of the overhaul, said defeat of the measures Wednesday was disappointing. He had proposed a measure that would give local project-winnowing authority to a legislative body that would then send recommendations to the governor.
“It was a good-government bill, and sometimes those can be hard to get through,” he said.
Morris said his goal was to shed light on the process and ensure that the distribution of funding would be more fair.
He and others cited projects during the hearing that they said were less in need than others throughout the state.
“The legislature needs to seize back some of its authority in this process,” said Sen. Robert Kostelka, a Monroe Republican. “This is a move in the right direction.”
Other legislators’ arguments ranged from politics being part of the process, that the Legislature shouldn’t overfill its list and that, in general, the process should be overhauled but neither of the proposed bills were the right fit.
“I pass the bill. This body passes the bill,” said Sen. Michael Walsworth, R-West Monroe.
“This is politics, you can’t take politics out of politics,” said Sen. Gregory Tarver, D-Shreveport. “When the bill gets over here, we have to take things away because (the House has) passed the money mark.”