By David Jacobs | The Center Square
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday he plans to veto at least some of the $22 million in spending for local projects legislators recently approved but he didn’t say which items he will strip from the bill.
Louisiana governors have the right to veto specific items in a spending bill, as opposed to vetoing the entire bill. Governors can use their line item veto authority to shoot down items they don’t believe are state priorities, and they frequently are accused of using their power to reward political allies or punish enemies.
House Bill 39 includes measures the administration supports, such as injecting $85 million into the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund. But Edwards is skeptical of the 113 local projects, ranging from $10,000 to $2 million, the bill includes.
“It’s safe to say not all of those will survive the veto pen,” Edwards said.
When HB 39 was first presented Oct. 15, Republicans and Democrats balked at the local projects. Even members of the Appropriations Committee said they hadn’t previously seen the list.
Appropriations Chairman Jerome Zeringue was unable to explain the criteria that determined which items got into the bill. He tabled the measure and brought it back the next day with a different mix of local spending proposals.
Zeringue said the local spending is focused on COVID-19 relief, vital infrastructure including drainage, and helping law enforcement and firefighters. The new version of the bill passed easily, though Rep. Tony Bacala said members had not had enough time to review it.
The House voted 87-13 to approve the changes hammered out by the joint House and Senate conference committee and send the bill to the governor’s desk. Bacala ultimately voted for the bill, according to the posted roll call. The Senate approved the bill 31-0.
The nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana accused the Legislature of “not managing your tax dollars prudently.”
“While some of the items are ostensibly for local jurisdictions’ ‘coronavirus expenses,’ the list is essentially a resurrection of the old ‘slush funds’ that once served political favors at the expense of more pressing needs of the state,” PAR said in a prepared statement. “We thought that time had passed, but apparently the new breed of legislators is not so new after all.”