The Louisiana Public Service Commission refused Wednesday to sell half its vehicles, as ordered by the Jindal administration, to help fill a hole in the state budget.
The five elected commissioners said they represent sprawling districts and need the automobiles to perform their duties. Besides, their cars already are paid for and they would have to rent cars, which is not in the budget, to accomplish the same tasks.
The Jindal administration on Dec. 9 ordered the state utility regulators to turn over seven of their cars, which would be added to about 700 other vehicles up for sale. The agencies had two weeks to turn in the chosen vehicles.
The Division of Administration intends to sell the vehicles, which would bring about $1.4 million in the state general fund. The vehicles were chosen because they couldn’t justify the maintenance costs, according to the administration.
The administration would not say if it planned to confiscate the cars despite the PSC’s resolution. But Jan Cassidy, the assistant commissioner for procurement, said in a prepared statement: “Reducing state expenses requires all state agencies to review their priorities and ensure they are spending taxpayer dollars appropriately. Of the 13 state vehicles at the Public Service Commission, 11 of them are driven less than 15,000 miles a year.
“The cost of maintaining underutilized vehicles is greater than the cost of reimbursing employees for travel when it’s necessary.”
The motion was made by PSC Chairman Eric Skrmetta, a Republican from Metairie, and seconded by Commissioner Scott Angelle, a Breaux Bridge Republican who once was in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s cabinet. The resolution was approved without objection.
Additionally, the underlying issue is the subject of a lawsuit.
The PSC argues that the recent practice of the Jindal administration and Louisiana Legislature taking the funds that are paid to the PSC as fees by the regulated companies, amounts to an unconstitutional levy of taxes. The administration and the Legislature counter they have the right to use the fees as part of the state budget.
The cases challenging the practice are pending in court.