Slush-in-Disguise?

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By: Jeremy Alford

Despite campaign hoopla to the contrary, pet local projects and “slush” still make their way into the state budget — to the tune of more than $77 million as of last week. These days, they’re called NGOs, or nongovernmental organizations, and lawmakers can direct state funds to them via the state’s operating budget. The ostensible purposes range from economic development to drug treatment, and recipient groups vary from religious organizations to social services outfits.

For instance, Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, a Baton Rouge Democrat, wants $65,000 for the Louisiana Ballooning Foundation. Rep. Noble Ellington, a fellow Democrat from Winnsboro, wants $25,000 for his local gun club. GOP Rep. Hunter Greene of Baton Rouge, who chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, seeks $3 million in public money for Hope Academy, a private school in his hometown with only 84 students. Rep. Patricia Smith, a Democrat, wants $200,000 for the Baton Rouge High School Alumni Association. C.B. Forgotston, a Hammond attorney and former chief counsel for the budget-drafting House Appropriations Committee, picked up on the NGO issue long before the mainstream press, combing through House Bill 1 and posting the earmarks on his Web site (http://forgotston.com). He says the cost of NGOs will surely increase as the session nears its end in late June, even as other taxpayer needs mount. “This is just the start,” Forgotston says. “The operating budget is still in the House Appropriations Committee. The organizations and amount will grow as the legislative session continues. Now you know why you aren’t getting a tax reduction or rebate from the excess state revenues.” Gov. Bobby Jindal, meanwhile, sent a letter to all money committee chairs instructing them that the “use of state tax dollars to fund NGOs raises serious questions in regards to whether or not the funding is consistent with the proper function and responsibility of state government and the use of taxpayer money.” To that end, Jindal offered criteria for the projects. If the steps are not followed, the governor promised a swift veto.

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