Here we go again, but this time the Legislature ought to give serious thought before going along with another of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s raids on whatever loose pots of money he can find in the budget.
Why? Because this time Jindal seeks to take money from the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund to spend on state operating expenses.
The administration’s argument is that the state faces dire budget conditions, and if money is in the fund that can avert more layoffs or more cutbacks to services, it ought to be used in a budget crisis. Never mind, of course, that the budget crises arise from Jindal’s own mistakes, and the legislators who have been mostly rubber stamps for his budget and tax policies.
Still, this raid on the coastal funds is different.
For decades, Louisiana has fought for a fairer share of offshore oil and gas revenues. Landmark legislation to provide more Outer Continental Shelf revenues only gradually provides more federal funding for the Gulf of Mexico states, including Louisiana, which bear the brunt of energy development for the nation.
Inevitably, now that the legislation originally pushed by then-U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., starts to pay off for the state, both the federal and state governments want to raid the funds. President Barack Obama wants to keep the money in the U.S. Treasury, although it’s very unlikely that that raid will come off; the Louisiana delegation is keeping an eagle eye on that, as it should.
At the state level, the prospect of more revenue sharing has led the state to make what we thought were binding commitments to use the new revenues for coastal protection and restoration. The governor, as the Public Affairs Research Council pointed out, has been a responsible steward of the money and the cause.
PAR’s devastating analysis of the budget raid proposed by the governor notes that the sums are small, a total in the range of $2 million. But it’s a measure of how badly Jindal has mismanaged the budget for years that such small sums are so desperately needed in the general fund.
“It is significant because it breaks the state’s practice of truly protecting the coastal fund from diversions that boost the state general operating budget. The fund sweep would demonstrate that Louisiana is now willing to cross the line to misspend precious, dedicated coastal resources when the budget-going gets tough,” PAR said. “A fund raid of this magnitude is hardly worth the trouble it will cause.”
Not only Obama but other states’ representatives in Congress might see this as an excuse to cut the federal contribution mandated by the Landrieu legislation.
We’re washing away physically. Politically, this small fund sweep might also erode the fragile political consensus that Louisiana’s coastline is a national problem deserving of a national financial commitment.