If its financial impact is small, we nevertheless welcome Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to end stipends for members of some state boards.
Members of advisory boards or other state committees are typically paid on a per-meeting basis, or per diem.
Those have come under more scrutiny since a report from the legislative auditor’s office tallied the 492 boards and commissions and committees of various sorts in state government.
Not all the boards reported back to the auditor but those that did reported spending $11.25 million on per diem, various staff costs and travel allowances for the commissions over two years.
The governor’s press secretary said the order affecting the few boards under the governor’s direct control was not provoked by the auditor’s report but was part of a general effort to find some ways to scrimp and save in a chronically unstable state budget.
The estimated savings from Jindal’s order are about $50,000, not a huge sum in state spending.
What is more surprising in all this is not that boards and commissions are so numerous, because lawmakers and agencies produce more almost every year.
Nor is that they offer per diem or travel allowances, although there is a growing — and we think healthy — trend of legislators questioning sponsors of new boards about the costs of operations.
In fact, there’s almost a cottage industry of legislators offering bills to eliminate boards and commissions, but the fiscal impact of these measures is usually minimal. Typically, the board or committee facing the guillotine hasn’t met in years.
A committee of citizens, or maybe of experts, might have been established to oversee some state program that had been eliminated, and so the board fizzled away long ago.
Eliminating the statutory authority for such a nonexistent entity is not a particularly challenging level of reform.
There is something of a whiff of hypocrisy in the officials, including the bureaucrat-in-chief, setting the hounds on boards and commissions. The governor is quick to denounce bureaucracy, but one of the reasons commissions are established is to provide some oversight of what those bad ol’ bureaucrats do.
In the best-case scenario, a set of independent citizens or knowledgeable experts would be watching — or blowing the whistle on — the implementation of a state program.
And in a bestest-case scenario, those board members would volunteer their time, waiving per diem and travel allowances.
Boards and commissions are thus one way to get more input into government. If you want government decisions to be fueled by the views of bureaucrats, politicians and lobbyists, then crusading against boards and commissions makes sense.
The discussion of per diem as some heavy-duty cost of government is, as Jindal’s executive order suggested, often overblown. At the same time, it is nevertheless a real cost.
Perhaps the governor would consider making it a condition of future appointments that appointees don’t take per diem or travel allowances.
That promise would not be enforceable in law in every case, but it would be a promise that an appointee would usually keep — because many of the appointments are “at pleasure,” meaning the appointee could be removed.
If there’s one thing Jindal can’t be accused of, it’s a reluctance to fire an official, much less a board member, of whose actions the governor disapproves.