Our Views: Pork barrel dollars scarce

No one seemed to need an explanation of the punchline when state Rep. Joel C. Robideaux, a Lafayette Republican, was recently introduced to his audience as “the legislator most unlikely to have a special project built in his district.”

Robideaux, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, had said a few days earlier that his committee didn’t plan to hear bills dealing with tax repeal, which had been a part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s legislative package. The decision by the committee appeared to kill any chance for Jindal to get the bills passed.

Louisiana’s governors have typically rewarded loyalty among lawmakers by favoring them with special projects in their districts. Going against a governor’s wishes can sometimes be the kiss of death for such projects.

Robideaux smiled without comment when Robert Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, assessed Robideaux’s prospects for gubernatorial favors during a recent PAR roundtable discussion about the ongoing legislative session.

A fellow panelist, state Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat who sits on the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, was candid in summarizing a governor’s traditional power to advance his policies — even questionable ones — by using capital outlay dollars to influence legislative votes: “Make this terrible vote, and I’ll build this project in your district.”

But Morrell suggested that with a tight state budget, Jindal has less state money at his disposal to reward loyalists — or to deny political spoils to legislative critics.

If that’s true, then perhaps more legislative votes will be decided on the merits instead. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing for enlightened public policy in a state that desperately needs it.