When it comes to spending priorities, one thing cannot be clearer among Louisiana legislators: It’s their money and they’re going to spend it on their own reelections.
Those principles were never more clearly demonstrated than when the state House and its budget-writing Appropriations Committee piled up local grants this year.
It’s good to be king, or rather speaker or chairman: “Approximately 30% of state funding earmarked for legislators’ 197 personal pet projects in the budget plan the Louisiana House has approved goes to just three of the state’s 64 parishes — the same three parishes where the House’s legislative leaders personally live,” the Louisiana Illuminator reported.
And that’s just the first cut at the budget, which takes effect July 1. Now the spending bills go to the Finance Committee in the Senate. Like House members, most senators hope to be reelected this fall, too, and so expect a large number of special grants to be added to the budget in that chamber’s version.
No one is opposed to grants for kids' playgrounds, which are a favorite way for lawmakers to curry favor back home, but shouldn't the local taxpayers pay for local projects? Not according to those in the State Capitol, because the political capital then does not accrue to the legislators involved.
And quite often, as in the grants given to parishes where key legislators live, it’s real money, like the $1 million for a sports complex in Youngsville and another $1 million for one in Houma. Those add up quickly.
This money is originally from taxpayers across the state, but it's targeted through the political process. The state budget, unlike that in the U.S. Congress, must be balanced.
This year, by chance or design, $51 million was cut from early childhood education for poor kids, and about the same amount in new political grants was added into the budget.
An obvious lesson in the wrong priorities.