If you can’t take the politics out of politics, as one unusually political senator said the other day in the State Capitol, at least can’t the Legislature avoid giving the governor all the power in the building?
That’s what happens when, this year as in years before, the state’s big construction bill is compiled, with a slew of projects awaiting money to begin.
Following long precedent, Gov. Bobby Jindal submitted a capital outlay bill overstuffed with projects, far more than the state can realistically expect to pay for in the year beginning July 1.
Legislators usually can’t find the political capacity to cut the list back. Typically, they add more – leaving the decision-making on which projects are funded to the governor. Governors typically reward their friends and punish their enemies. “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.”
The Jindal administration disagrees, but its allies in the Senate have traditionally rejected bills to change the capital outlay process. One of the most political of the politicians in the Senate is the durable Gregory Tarver, a Democrat from Shreveport who is usually found in any governor’s camp, whether the chief executive is populist Democrat or conservative Republican.
He’s the one who says you can’t take the politics out of politics. Maybe he’s right, but does the definition of politics have to be “orders from the governor’s office”?
This year, “there was no capital outlay reform,” flatly stated state Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, who is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee which writes House Bill 2, the construction budget.
The root of the issue is the power of the governor’s office over the Legislature. As many have pointed out for years, the members of House and Senate have the formal authority to cut back on the governor’s influence, but they rarely exercise it.
Instead, they have two modes of dealing with the governor’s office. One is standard subservience to the governor’s wishes, or a descent into chaos when they attempt to do something on their own.
There is definitely politics in the fact that senators and representatives, voting “right” with the governor, want to get the projects for their districts that Perry cites. It would be difficult to get lawmakers to agree to a nonpolitical process of ascertaining the state’s needs and putting those first; instead, local projects get funded in large part by the state, so that lawmakers can say they are bringing home the bacon, and local officials don’t have to ask their own voters to pony up money for local needs.
In other states, if they don’t take the politics out of politics, they at least keep to the swim lanes – requiring projects to be worthwhile, providing that legislators agree on what are priorities, keeping the governor from using projects as carrots and sticks in the legislative process.
That we can’t do that in Louisiana is one of the reasons the governor is too powerful.