March 21, 2012 06:00 AM
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Forget everything you think you know about what's going on in Baton Rouge.

By Jeremy Alford


Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Louisiana Legislature are focusing on education during this year's regular session. Partly, it's so that our children can grow up and be schooled real good like and see increases in their take-home pay.

But by the time the final gavel comes crushing down in early June, we may just learn that the session had a dual purpose: to pad the public salaries of officials far and wide so that their take-home pay increases now. Talk about getting schooled.

 

Forget everything you think you know about what's going on in Baton Rouge.

By Jeremy Alford


Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Louisiana Legislature are focusing on education during this year's regular session. Partly, it's so that our children can grow up and be schooled real good like and see increases in their take-home pay.

But by the time the final gavel comes crushing down in early June, we may just learn that the session had a dual purpose: to pad the public salaries of officials far and wide so that their take-home pay increases now. Talk about getting schooled.

If tinfoil hats were more comfortable to wear, one might think it's a grand conspiracy. The topic is definitely flying under the radar, given the treacherous education debate last week, the dire shape of the public retirement system and yet another budget shortfall following yet another midyear deficit.

It's not a smokescreen, though. Teachers, a wide range of state government employees, parish assessors, judges from all benches and sheriffs from around the state are all in line to receive salary increases by a vote of the Legislature in the coming weeks.

Public sentiment could turn the tide, as it has in the past. But the timing is perfect - re-election is four years away, practically an eternity in politics - for lawmakers to give up ground. That's chiefly why the following proposals are even on the table right now.

The administration is orchestrating the first two. While the unions hate Jindal's education plan, it does include opportunities for teachers to make more money. Also, for the first time in two years, the administration is permitting agencies to dole out pay raises if they can find the money in their existing budgets.

As for sheriffs, a pair of New Orleans Democrats is pushing a plan that links greater accountability with more money. Rep. Jeff Arnold has House Bill 408, which creates the "Louisiana Sheriffs' Executive Management Institute" within the office of the governor.

 In the meantime, there is House Bill 319 by Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley. It would increase the annual salary of the Lafayette Parish assessor (currently Conrad T. Comeaux) from $98,290 to $108,290.

In the Upper Chamber, Judiciary Chairman J.P. Morrell has the duplicate in Senate Bill 97. Both bills stipulate that, as long as sheriffs complete the required training, they would be eligible for a salary increase. In an interesting twist, the increases would be contingent upon whether district court judges also get a salary boost this session.

Arnold, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has that turn covered, too. He has filed House Bill 483 to create judicial raises ranging between 1 percent and 4 percent. Their pay already stands at $136,544 for district court, $142,447 for appeals court and $149,572 annually for state Supreme Court judges.

The proposal is based on the findings of a special state commission, and judges are already lobbying lawmakers individually and in groups.

Finally, there are our parish assessors. Public notices published earlier this year suggested that legislation would be filed to "authorize increases in compensation to tax assessors based on increases in the Consumer Price Index."

That exact mechanism hasn't been introduced, but lawmakers still have two more weeks to file legislation. In the meantime, there is House Bill 319 by Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley. It would increase the annual salary of the Lafayette Parish assessor (currently Conrad T. Comeaux) from $98,290 to $108,290.

It's really not a question of whether these public officials deserve the money. Surely they work hard. It's more a question of priorities and reality. Does this state have serious financial problems or not?

Sooner or later, state government should consider a special salary supplement for the people of Louisiana. Because sorting through this nonsense makes for heavy lifting - and no one should have to do it for free.

Jeremy Alford can be reached at jeremy@jeremyalford.com.