After carrying 60 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, Jindal will begin his governorship with much political capital to spend on the issues he deems important. He has already announced that, shortly after the inauguration, he plans to call the Legislature into a Special Session to address ethics reform. Ethics is an issue that Jindal stressed throughout his campaign, so it is no surprise that he would want to address it first.
He strongly believes that sending the message that Louisiana is going to be much less tolerant of unethical activity in the future is a key to improving our image nationally and internationally—and he is correct.
In a larger sense, ethics reform is a subset of an even larger and more important issue that Governor-elect Jindal needs to push hard during his tenure in the Governor’s Mansion. That issue is transparency. There is nothing wrong with giving the public better information about financial factors that could perhaps influence how an elected official acts on issues. The transparency that would come from such laws and regulations would help keep elected officials honest and mindful that their constituents come first before their own vested interests. What voters would find equally informative and interesting is how their hard-earned tax dollars are spent and to what effect.
Bobby Jindal’s years in Congress undoubtedly opened his eyes regarding how difficult it is for an ordinary person to comprehend the federal budget or to gauge how effectively Congress and the sprawling federal bureaucracy spend our money. Next March, our new governor will submit his first executive budget to the Legislature. That document could start a revolution of fiscal reform in Louisiana if he uses it to begin to correct spending practices and to educate the public about how their dollars are spent.
For example, one of the elements in the current budget is labeled the “2004 Overcollections Fund.” Only a handful of individuals even know that item is in the budget, much less have any idea of what purpose it serves. Basically, it is a “piggy bank.” When the 2004 state budget was enacted, this “piggy bank” was created as a vehicle to hold state funds for “contingency” spending—funds that otherwise would have ended up as surplus and could then only have been spent on certain constitutionally sanctioned one-time expenditures. Once the Legislature leaves town, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee—usually composed of strong supporters of whoever is governor—meets to spend this “contingency” money as they and the governor see fit.
The “2004 Overcollections Fund” is just one of many such “piggy banks” in the budget. Another “piggy bank” comes from inflating the number of employees in the budget and then moving the funding for those positions into other categories.
Bobby Jindal would do the taxpayers a great service by clearly outlining the lax practices that go into state budgeting and bringing more transparency into how our dollars are spent. He can also take steps to stop the endless parade of local officials from all over the state coming to Baton Rouge, asking the state to pay for items that should be rightfully financed by local sources of revenue.
Ethics reform is definitely needed. Exposing conflicts of interest is important. But creating more transparency regarding how the $30 billion state budget is fashioned and spent is also necessary to reform the state’s image and to create more voter confidence in state government.
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