The power of the purse is one of the most significant that the Legislature enjoys, and it is pitiful how little the members of House and Senate seek to exercise it.
Look at the dubious maneuver that raises the salary of a state department head by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s order, when the Legislature authorized a lower salary for the position.
Jindal named his former aide Tim Barfield, a well-regarded Baton Rouge businessman, to fill the vacancy at the Department of Revenue, its secretary — a career civil servant — having resigned.
Unhappily, the incumbent’s salary as authorized in the budget by the Legislature is $124,000 a year. Jindal offered Barfield $250,000 a year.
Perhaps Barfield might have served for a time at the lower salary, with the governor then going to lawmakers to make up the difference. No, that would be too deferential to the powers of the purse.
The difference is being made up by a highhanded bit of executive — not legislative — lawmaking.
An inactive position of executive counsel at Revenue — Barfield is a lawyer — was “activated” so that Barfield’s two checks would keep him in greater comfort.
Barfield is not the only Cabinet secretary to get more money than a typical Jindal appointee, and that’s caused grumbling before, but the issue is not really the money.
Nor is there apparently any legal problem, although reformers of past decades did manage to pass laws forbidding dual officeholding.
The old practice was that governors would buy the loyalty of legislators by offering them state jobs, so that if the lawmaker bucked the governor his income would suffer when he lost his state job, which was often just a no-show paycheck.
Barfield’s case appears not to be dual officeholding, but the argument made for the bans on dual officeholding do apply: He’s not doing the work of two full-time employees. He’s just getting an extra check.
There is no conflict of interest, as Barfield can be fired from both at the same time. But is it seemly?
That the administration can raise his pay — and perhaps, that of others later — at the stroke of a pen makes legislators look even less relevant to what really goes on in the State Capitol.
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved