OUR VIEW: Political common sense

State Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera released an audit Monday that raises serious questions about how accountable Louisiana is to its people, when it comes to how their money is spent on contracts for consultants and services.

The state’s Contract Financial Management System is used to keep track of the contracts, and for taxpayers to have access as well.

More than 14,000 contracts totaling $21.3 billion were in the tracking system, which is maintained by the Office of Contractual Review in November.

But more than 4,000 contracts, Purpera’s report states, are not included. This is because, as the audit points out, Louisiana law does not require a centralized database “where legislators and other stakeholders can easily determine the actual number and dollar amount of all state contracts.”

State Rep. Dee Richard, I-Thibodaux, proposed legislation last year that would help rein in the privatization and contracting that have become so common in our state.

The bill proposed that contracts requiring $40,000 or more from the General Fund and the Over-Collections Fund would require legislative oversight. The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget would have final approval, could request revisions or, if money was saved, put it someplace where more sorely needed.

The measure passed the Senate and the House.

Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed the bill, stating that it would have prevented needed services from getting to Louisiana citizens, and offering other platitudes.

Richard, who has made a legislative career out of speaking to power – particularly power in the Governor’s mansion – has reintroduced the concept in this year’s legislative session, as HB 30.

Richard’s concept is mentioned now – as it was in 2014 – by Treasurer John Neely, who was compelled to issue a statement about the legislative audit of Louisiana’s contract-tracking rules or the lack thereof.

“This confirms my worst fears,” Kennedy said. “Not only do we have too many contracts, but we’re hiding from the public the number of consultants we’re hiring. It’s time to completely reform the way contracts are handled in state government.”

“House Bill 30 by state Rep. Dee Richard will create more legislative input into these contracts. This legislation will ensure that more contracts are vetted before the public. Taxpayers need to know about the millions of dollars spent every year on consultants, especially when they’re being socked with tax increases to balance the budget.”

The suggestion in the audit report is not that anyone is necessarily doing anything wrong, that skullduggery is afoot.

But why should every state contract be approved before it is signed?

True, there are some cases – recurrent contracts for example – where the same level of vigilance might not be required from one year to the next because the amounts or services are static.

The real issue is that when the legislature demands financial accountability from the executive branch of a government in the name of the people they represent the executive should acquiesce.

The White House – that place where Mr. Jindal seems to envision himself residing one day – had an occupant who placed hubris and self-serving above the will of the people. Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace.

This is not a comparison of Jindal to Nixon in any way. But it is a reminder that the executive is not a sovereign. In our nation and in our state that role is reserved for the people.

Jindal’s objections to Richard’s bill rang hollow last year, particularly in light of his balking at letting communications to and from his department heads be shielded from public view, which was more usurping of what belongs to the people. They will ring just as hollow this year if HB 30 is passed, once again sent to Jindal for signature and if he refuses.

Richard’s bill should be passed out of the committee that currently weighs it with haste, and no representative or senator should have any reason to vote against it.

The Purpera study makes more clear than ever that lawmakers were correct in voting the proposal to the executive chamber for signature.

It also makes clear that Jindal wronged the people of Louisiana by refusing to sign it.

The governor can rectify that error easily, when his pen is again called upon to do what is best for our state.