Louisiana lawmakers give up their independence with ‘toothless’ LFO

Is the breakdown of Legislative Fiscal Office intentional?

In 1973, the Legislature created the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO) to provide independent analysis and advice to the legislature on state fiscal matters.

Prior to 1974, the only source of such information came from the governor’s budget office. Lacking necessary budgetary information, the legislature was completely dominated by the governor’s budget staff.

In 1975, the office was staffed.

Immediately, it began leveling the playing field between the governor and the legislature.  The state budget officer viewed the LFO as the “enemy.”

No longer could he get away with shooting from the lip.  He had to be prepared because the LFO staff went toe-to-toe, dollar for dollar, on every agency budget.

As the legislature became more knowledgeable about state fiscal matters, they became more independent.  For decades the legislators stood strong behind the LFO.Current legislators say they want to be independent, but that’s lip service.

This is impossible without information on the budget.  Governors don’t like independent legislators and have worked to undermine the LFO.

Beginning with former Gov. Mike Foster, the office was significantly weakened by replacing a knowledgeable, no nonsense individual with one willing to do the governor’s bidding.

On July 16, 2012, it was announced that on Aug. 9, 2012, Gordon Monk, then-Legislative Fiscal officer was retiring.  That was the nail in the coffin for the LFO and for legislature independence.

Members of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committees held interviews to fill the post. Almost three years later, the legislators have failed to elect someone as the LFO.

A former legislative staffer remains as the “temporary LFO.”However, two legislative sessions (and almost a third) have come and gone with the legislators failing to elect or even conducing more interviews for a LFO as required by law.Law

State law requires there to be a Legislative Fiscal officer  elected by a majority of the elected members of both the House and Senate.

They can also only be removed by a majority of both.  That provided some level of independence and thus objectivity for the office.

Why neuter the LFO?The only conclusion one can draw by the legislature’s failure to act is to intentionally neuter the LFO.   The temporary appointee was selected by a majority of Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

A permanent LFO must be approved by a majority of the elected members of both the House and Senate and can only be removed by a majority of both.

The temporary LFO is under the domination of a small handful of legislators who can remove him at any time by a majority of them.

That means the governor via his legislative floor leaders control all the fiscal information available to the legislators to make budgetary decisions.

Evidence of the neutering of the LFO is clearly seen in the fiscal chaos we have had for the last six years.

The legislators have finally admitted they have no plan to deal with the $1.8 billion deficit and have called in the “punt team” to kick the matter down the road to the next governor and legislature.

Most current legislators don’t know the purpose of the LFO.  The few veterans that do are part of the effort to limit it because they know how influential it could be.Action needed

It’s time to either return the LFO as it was intended or eliminate it.

Currently, it is toothless, redundant (with legislative committee staffs) and a waste of taxpayer dollars.


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