July 29, 2012
Upon first taking office as governor, Bobby Jindal promised to expand transparency in state government. Jindal has consistently broken that promise during his years as the state’s chief executive. Jindal’s administration has successfully advanced changes in the Louisiana Pubic Records Law that have expanded the kinds of state government documents that can be shielded from public view. Jindal’s administration has also liberally interpreted the Public Records Law in refusing to release documents detailing the activities of his administration.
The latest example of this government secrecy involves the Jindal administration’s refusal to release most of the records at the Division of Administration involving the state’s alternative fuel vehicle tax credit. The tax break, approved by the Legislature in 2009, was intended to encourage Louisiana residents to use cleaner-burning vehicles. The Louisiana Department of Revenue issued an emergency rule in April that expanded the list of vehicles eligible for the tax break. State lawmakers expressed concern that the ruling would create a problem in the state budget by drawing millions of dollars from state coffers.
Jindal scrapped the ruling June 14, saying the law governing the issuance of an emergency rule wasn’t followed. Cynthia Bridges, who was then the secretary of the Department of Revenue, resigned suddenly the next day, without explanation.
The Associated Press asked for records involving the tax credit. The Division of Administration, which handles state budget matters on behalf of the governor, refused to release most of its records concerning the issue. A lawyer for the Division of Administration said that the records are being kept from public view as part of an exemption in the Public Records Law involving the governor’s “deliberative process.”
In 2009, Jindal successfully supported legislation creating the exemption for records that are part of a governor’s “deliberative process.” We opposed that legislation when it was under consideration, since the concept of a “deliberative process” is so broad that it invites abuse. Our fears have been realized by the Jindal administration’s expansive reading of this exemption to keep documents from public view that had previously been available to the public. Rather than restricting only records generated by a small number of advisers within the Governor’s Office, the exemption has been broadly interpreted so that records in other state departments have also been withheld from public view by the Jindal administration.
As bad as it is, the records exemption for the governor and his advisers does not forbid the release of documents. It gives the governor the option to release or not release. Unfortunately, the choice is usually not to release, but to keep documents secret instead.
The most recent consequence of this secrecy is that citizens are being kept in the dark about how tax policies are being developed.
Jindal has consistently touted his conservative credentials within Louisiana and to the rest of the country. His reputation as a leading conservative within the national Republican Party has many observers wondering if he might be selected as the GOP’s vice presidential nominee this year.
We’d like to believe that conservatism’s highest ideal is the notion that government should be accountable to those it is intended to serve.
In consistently refusing to release documents concerning important state business, Jindal has made himself less accountable to citizens.
That doesn’t sound like what conservatives are supposed to be about.