Jim Beam column:Pet project system is unfair

Published 6:43 am Saturday, June 15, 2024

A city councilman in an area parish asked  me a question in an email message I have never received over my many years of covering the Louisiana Legislature. He said he had read Wednesday’s column about the $92.7 million lawmakers are spending on what are called pet projects back home.

“I am curious as to how I can  help my city apply for ‘pet projects,’” he said. “I’m quite certain we are missing out on this opportunity and would like to know how to participate. Thank you in advance.”

I called the councilman and explained how those projects are handled.

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Legislators approve a number of appropriations bills each session, starting with House Bill 1, the state budget. There are also ancillary appropriations, supplementary appropriations, and appropriations for the Legislature and judicial system.

The pet projects, which are usually in one of the first three bills, this year are in House Bill 782, the supplementary appropriations bill. The House Appropriations Committee added those projects to the bill.

When the bill got to the Senate, the Louisiana Illuminator reported, “The Louisiana House had already added over $40 million pet project funding to the budget proposal last month, and the Senate changes appear to significantly increase the number and size of those allocations.”

As happens most years, the news agency said those projects that are also called “earmarks” include local golf courses, schools, courthouses, fraternal organizations and nonprofits that would not otherwise receive state funding.

Members of the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee usually get first crack at adding projects to that bill. Non-government organizations (NGOs) have to file applications for those funds.

I told the area councilman that state Republican Reps. Dewith Carrier of Oakdale, Chuck Owen of Rosepine and Troy Romero of Jennings are on the appropriations committee. Sens. Mark Abraham and Jeremy Stine, both of Lake Charles, are on the finance committee.

I had gone through HB 782 and pulled out appropriations for city, parish and political subdivisions in Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jeff Davis and Vernon parishes.

I told the councilman his city got significant funding for street rehabilitation work and suggested he might want to talk to the area legislators on the two money committees if his city wanted additional funding next year.

You can’t help but wonder how some of those NGO projects qualify for state money. Bridge House Corp., for example, is in line for $300,000 for operating expenses. I looked that one up on Google and it appears to be a New Orleans organization that helps men and women rebuild their lives.

The Monroe for United Way of Northeast Louisiana will get $75,000, but it appears to be the only United Way in the long list.

The Festivals for Good Corp. will get $375,000 for marketing and promotion. I looked that one up and it is a nonprofit that donates to charities from its festival proceeds.

A number of economic development districts receive up to $250,000, and Heroes of New Orleans will receive $250,000 for after-school programming. JRF Outreach will get $400,000.

The Bogalusa YMCA will get $200,000 and the Baton Rouge Art Gallery will receive $500,000. The Lakeshore Indians Booster Club for the Lakeshore Playground is in line for $2.5 million. The PLEASE Foundation will receive $262,000.

The McDonogh 35 Alumni Association will get $25,000 for student, teacher and school support initiatives. Tea Time Etiquette LLC will get $50,000 for youth initiatives. The Knights of Columbus Post 4874 in Ponchatoula will receive $10,000.

These appropriations are just a sampling of the many projects receiving state funds that don’t have a firm connection to state government activities.

For some strange reason, organizations that have had money appropriated for them at previous legislative sessions haven’t filled out the necessary paperwork to get it. The Illuminator reported that state Treasurer John Fleming warned last month that his office is still struggling to disperse $165 million worth of similar projects from past years.

These NGOs may be doing worthwhile work, but there are many others out there doing the same things that aren’t getting any government funding. It’s long past time to reform or eliminate this arbitrary pet project giveaway.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than six decades. Contact him at 337-515-8871 or jim.beam.press@gmail.com.