Edwards administration met with surprise pay raises

During the final weeks and months of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tenure, leading up to his last regular workday on Jan. 8, his office and cabinet heads implemented millions of dollars worth of pay raises for state employees and made nearly two dozen board and commission appointments that were not publicized.

It’s all being unearthed as part of the excavation efforts of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration, which officially came to power just two weeks ago. The pay raises, in particular, are disturbing to Edwards, according to sources who say the governor also recently instructed his department secretaries and agency directors to report back all related findings as soon as possible.

The expenditures are also coming to light as staffers and legislators are considering furloughs, among other measures, as a way to handle a $750 million current fiscal year shortfall. Next fiscal year the gap is expected to reach $1.9 billion.

When asked about the pay raises earlier this month, a spokesman for Jindal’s office did not confirm the salary hikes, but told LaPolitics that the decisions had been left up to each department and agency head, without the consultation of Jindal.

Documents obtained show at least four departments triggered performance adjustments of up to 4 percent, or at least $19.1 million in new expenditures for the current and next fiscal years. The tally is expected to grow as more raises are uncovered. All of the departments identified so far now have new secretaries or directors that have been appointed by Edwards.

The Department of Transportation and Development saw a 4 percent merit-based increase in Jindal’s final days. It amounts to $6.5 million this fiscal year and $11.5 million next fiscal year, accounting for attrition and benefits.

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries allowed all classified and non-appointed unclassified employees that had reached a full year of service by Oct. 1 to receive a 4 percent prospective increase totaling $1.19 million in new expenses.

The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority actually put in place a 4 percent retroactive pay raise, but the cost was unknown as of publication time. The Department of Environmental Quality saw increases, too, but at what level is still not known.

This could be a developing issue, with at least 78 different agencies and departments that were eligible to receive performance adjustments beginning in December, based on data provided by Civil Service. These are the agencies and departments that did not dole out raises back in October, the first round of eligibility.

On Jan. 8, the Friday before Edwards’ inauguration ceremony, Jindal also signed off on 23 board and commission appointments. He placed former state Sen. Ann Duplessis on the Louisiana Lottery Corporation Board. Jindal had also appointed Duplessis to the LSU Board of Supervisors during his tenure. Lake Charles attorney Thomas Henning was added to the Board of Regents and Nathan Wall of Springfield was placed on the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, among other appointments.

Fayard looks likely For Senate

While the Republican side of the race to replace U.S. Sen. David Vitter is stacked, the Democratic side continues to be less defined.

But Denham Springs attorney Caroline Fayard, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2010, seems positioned to change that. Her campaign team is putting together its fundraising staff and is actively interviewing and hiring. Fayard, however, has not made an official announcement.

State Sen. Gary Smith of Norco was making the rounds up in Washington, D.C., last week while other unannounced Democrats continue to test the waters alongside him, including Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell of Oak Grove, state Sen. Eric LaFleur of Ville Platte, state Rep. Robert Johnson of Marksville and Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy.

Doctor joins field of new congressional candidates

Louisiana already has more doctors serving in Congress per capita than any other state and that may continue to be true next term if Dr. Trey Baucum has his druthers.

He’ll be announcing his candidacy soon for the 4th Congressional District to replace Congressman John Fleming. A cardiologist, Baucum is building his campaign infrastructure quickly and has hired Roy Fletcher as his media consultant. Baucum comes from a well-known north Louisiana family and will run as a conservative Republican.

State Rep. Mike Johnson of Shreveport is all geared up to run as well and will be a formidable candidate. Also considering the race are Michael D. Reese, a well known advocate for Fort Polk and the CEO of American Moving and Storage; Shreveport Councilman Oliver Jenkins; and state Rep. Patrick Jefferson.

In the 3rd District, being vacated by Congressman Charles Boustany, Grover Joseph Rees is thinking about jumping in the ring. He is a former U.S. ambassador to East Timor and a Republican activist.

Lafayette Parish School Board member Erick Knezek announced and is running. So is retired Army Lt. Col. Greg Ellison. Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, after barely being squeezed out of the gubernatorial runoff, is back at it too and was telling jokes at the 65th parish Wednesday evening. He’s being encouraged to run for the U.S. Senate and for the 3rd District, but has not yet announced his plans.

Former state Rep. Brett Geymann of Lake Charles, who has been actively campaigning, is expected to make his final decision very soon. State Rep. Stuart Bishop of Lafayette and former state Sen. Elbert Guillory of Opelousas have also been mentioned as possibilities.

They Said It

“You might want to reach for the aspirin.”— Treasurer John Kennedy, explaining the state budget“Just turning down the thermostat isn’t going to get us there.”—Rep. Greg Miller, on balancing the budget

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