After years of a what-me-worry attitude toward state finances, it’s really not that surprising that top appointees of Gov. Bobby Jindal would plant financial land mines under their successors, in the form of 11th-hour pay raises that the state can ill afford.
What is surprising: Given that Jindal’s reign included a general attitude that civil servants are unproductive bureaucrats, it’s strange that at the last moment the outgoing administration tries to make them happy.
Given that the Jindal officials were sticking their successors with the tab, though, perhaps they felt that generosity would be somehow politically popular for an administration with dismal approval ratings.
We favor pay raises for civil servants who work hard and who provide needed services to the public, but every raise has to be fiscally responsible.
The new head of one state agency rightly calls the 11th-hour raises “fiscally irresponsible.”
Shawn Wilson, who is secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, made the comments about action taken by former department Secretary Sherri LeBas. The increases were announced Jan. 7, one of LeBas’ last days on the job and just four days before Jindal’s administration left office. LeBas’ decision provides 4 percent increases for most transportation department employees — more than 3,800 work there. That will cost the new administration, facing a huge shortfall in this year’s budget, $4.1 million between now and June 30 and $8.6 million for the new financial year that begins July 1.
Exactly how many state agencies authorized pay raises is unclear, but what is clear is that with only five months left in the fiscal year, any new raises make it extremely difficult for the appointees of Gov. John Bel Edwards to deal with the budget problems they inherit.
The new governor is himself taking flak from the generous salaries he has granted to top hires because as a candidate he criticized Jindal’s higher salaries for favored department heads and personal staff. But in money terms, that’s small potatoes compared with the granting of permanent raises to thousands of workers at a time.
A special session to tackle Louisiana’s financial problems, with sales tax hikes and others under review, starts Feb. 14.
What adds injury to insult is that the transportation department raises come from an agency strapped with cash to deal with road and bridge needs around the state. The backlog of projects is estimated at $12 billion, and every dollar applied to the raises is state cash that could be used to match federal funds for road and bridge repairs.
Like Wilson, who has served in the agency for years, we’re not in doubt that civil servants deserve a competitive wage. This kind of disreputable action by LeBas — or any of the other outgoing Jindal appointees — only shows that the old administration was intent on playing politics, right up to the last.