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Houma Courier - Money Should go Toward State Priorities

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Houma Courier - Money Should go Toward State Priorities

The issue: Bill targeting pork.

We suggest: Pass it.

The state Legislature continues to ponder a bill that would require lawmakers to reveal information about the nongovernmental organizations that receive money from the state.

That is more than fair.

Nearly 240 groups this year will get more than $60 million.

That's not small change and legislators and, more importantly, taxpayers, should know something about where the money is going and what it is purchasing.

State Treasurer John Kennedy nicely summed up the issue: "The real issue is not are these good projects. Perhaps some are. The real issue is a question of priorities. What's more important to the people of Louisiana now: the Catfish Festival or better levees?"

When put in such stark terms, it is easy to choose.

And it should be.

Sixty million dollars shouldn't be set aside for lawmakers' pet causes -- even if some of the causes are good.

That money should go toward state priorities and lawmakers, if they so desire, could use their clout and visibility to help raise money privately for the causes they cherish.

There is no debate that some of these causes are richly deserving of the money they receive.

The question here is whether they deserve public money and a spot at the front of the budget line, particularly, as Kennedy observed, when they are competing against real state priorities such as levees and evacuation routes.

In a recent position paper, the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana laid out a good plan for reforming the budget process used by the state for construction projects.

The nonprofit and nonpartisan good-government advocacy group points out three major flaws in the current process, two of which also apply to the nongovernmental groups receiving state money.

First, the governor can use the money as a "bargaining tool" to curry favor with individual legislators. In that way, the money becomes a political tool of the governor -- certainly not the best way to dole out public money.

And second, some of the groups receive the money with "little objective or rational basis."

Although the PAR report was on the construction-budget process, much of it applies equally here.

The report goes on to outline 10 improvements the state should make, including requiring nongovernment groups to supply 25 percent matches for the state money and limiting the money available for these private grants.

We aren't at all comfortable with lawmakers being able to carve money out of the budget for these groups, as worthwhile as their causes might be.

We are in favor of increasing the transparency of the budget process and we favor budgeting based, first and foremost, on addressing the state's most pressing needs.

This bill seems like it would start us on that path.


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