Jeremy Alford

Acadiana legislators' slush funds

by Jeremy Alford

Same old song, different dance. Former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco supposedly did away with slush fund projects and current Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal decried the pet projects last year during his campaign. The criticism is a bipartisan issue on the executive level, but the projects are still making their way into the state budget — to the tune of more than $100 million as of this week.

These days, they’re called NGOs, or nongovernmental organizations. Lawmakers insert the earmarks into the state’s operating budget, found in House Bill 1, which is supported largely by taxpayer dollars. There’s money proposed for economic development groups, drug treatment facilities, religious organizations and social services. But there’s also a few NGOs the average taxpayer might not expect to find in the state’s spending plan.
For instance, Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, a Baton Rouge Democrat, is requesting $65,000 for the Louisiana Ballooning Foundation. Rep. Noble Ellington, a fellow Democrat from Winnsboro, meanwhile, wants $25,000 for his local gun club. While many legislators use their NGOs as a way to channel pork back to their districts, which they can then take credit for if managed properly, Rep. Elbert Guillory, an Opelousas Democrat, has eliminated any concerns over the who-gets-credit game. He has $450,000 scheduled to go to a group called “Serving People District 40.” It should come as no surprise that House District 40 is represented by Guillory — who oversees the group that reportedly teaches young people homemaking and workforce skills.

Guillory also has earmarks of $10,000 for Abundant Life Baptist Church and a whopping $1.5 million for the Louisiana Equine Council, a horse advocacy group with members like the Evangeline Downs Racetrack. Other local NGOs from Acadiana include:

Acadiana Outreach Center, $350,000 — Rep. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette
ALS Association Louisiana CIO, $350,000 — Rep. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette
Breaux Bridge Historical Society, $25,000 — Rep. Fred Mills, D-Parks
The Gloria Kern Center Inc., $45,000 — Rep. Fred Mills, D-Parks
The Grand Opera House of the South Inc., $1.1 million — Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley
International Rice Festival Association, $152,344 — Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley
Israelite Community Development Corporation, $100,000 — Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley
Seventh District Pavilion Inc., $100,000 — Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley

All of the aforementioned line items are merely proposals at this point. Jindal has published a new set of strict guidelines for funding NGOs, so there’s a chance that many requests this year could be swiftly rejected. According to Jindal’s new rules, each project:
• Must have statewide or substantial regional impact.
• Must have been presented or openly discussed during the ongoing legislative session. • Must be a priority to a state agency.
• Must have a proper disclosure form published online.