Beam: Governor’s team thin-skinned

By By Jim Beam / American Press

Some officials in the Gov. Bobby Jindal

administration often remind us of children who are accused by their

parents of wrongdoing.

Youngsters usually say they didn’t do it or it’s somebody else’s


The latest example in state government comes from Kristy Nichols, the governor’s commissioner of administration and budget

spokesman. The state has had to deal with mid-year budget cuts during each of Jindal’s five years in office. Fiscal hawks

and state Treasurer John Kennedy blame that on the governor’s use of one-time money that won’t be available in succeeding

years or anticipated income in his proposed budgets that may not materialize.

Nichols was emphatic when she responded

to that allegation during a question-and-answer session with James

Varney of The Times-Picayune.

“One thing that needs to be clarified

just factually. It’s extremely important,” Nichols said. “There has

never been a deficit

in this administration that was ever caused by anything other than

changes to the revenue forecast. Kennedy’s comments talk

about major budget cuts and about how using revenue that’s

available in any given year has been the cause of major deficits.

“The reality is there has never been a major deficit in this administration that has been related to anything other than changes

to the revenue forecast. That’s just factually incorrect. There’s never been a major budget cut because of one-time money.

It’s all tied to revenue forecasting.”

In other words, it’s somebody else’s

fault. In this case, Nichols said the cause of mid-year budget cuts is

the forecasting

system used by the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference. The REC

uses fiscal experts to estimate how much revenue the state

will receive over a given period. Members of the conference are

also charged with designating which money in the estimate

is annual revenue and which is nonrecurring or one-time money.

The comments by Nichols are surprising

because she is a member of the REC as the governor’s designee. The

conference doesn’t

have a perfect record, but it has done a credible job over the

years. The other three members are Sen. John Alario, the president

of the senate, or his designee; Rep. Chuck Kleckley, the speaker

of the House, or his designee; and LSU economist Jim Richardson,

who has expertise in forecasting revenues.

Nichols also wants to know why using one-time money is wrong.

“... I don’t know what they want us to use the money for,” she told Varney. “I don’t know if they want us to stockpile it

and cut services, but I don’t think that’s what the taxpayers want in the state of Louisiana.”

What the taxpayers want is responsible

budgeting, and that means using one-time money on one-time projects.

Government agencies

in Calcasieu Parish, for example, are using unpredictable revenues

from casino gambling on capital construction projects.

The latest example is their use of some of those funds to

construct an improved traffic system in the Interstate 210-Nelson

Road area to better serve motorists. It’s a one-time project.

The Jindal administration just has a hard time dealing with criticism. It has always been quick to reject opposing views and

goes out of its way to defend its actions.

Political observers couldn’t help but

be amused at how many times at last year’s legislative session that

Jindal spokesmen

insisted their education and retirement reform measures were

constitutional despite arguments to the contrary. The administration

even hired some highly paid experts to back up its arguments.

The Jindal team is now having to deal

with court decisions declaring those reforms are either unconstitutional

or weren’t

properly enacted. A Baton Rouge judge said education reform packed

too many parts into one bill. A voucher measure that provides

state funds for students to use at private, charter or parochial

schools was also rejected.

Jindal tried to reform the state’s

retirement systems, but was only able to get legislators to agree to one

change. It sets

up a cash balance plan for future state employees that operates

much like 401(k) investment plans. A Baton Rouge judge said

it didn’t garner enough votes to be sent to the governor’s desk.

Administration spokesmen insist these

decisions will be overturned in higher courts. However, if they lose

they are convinced

the Legislature will make the necessary changes at the upcoming

session to save the education and retirement reform efforts.

The odds are they will win out in the end in one place or the

other, but none of this would have been necessary if administration

officials hadn’t been so high-and-mighty and listened to some of

their critics.

Effective government is a system of

give-and-take and compromise. That is a political lesson that seems to

have been lost

on political leaders in Washington, D.C., and in Baton Rouge.

However, there is one major difference in the two. The U.S.

Congress aggressively defends its independence, while many members

of the Louisiana Legislature seem content to keep playing

second fiddle to the state’s governors.

• • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or