Columns » The State of the State by Jeremy Alford

Game On

The rift between Treasurer John Kennedy and the Jindal Administration is real, but it could benefit taxpayers someday

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During the 10 months between now and next year's legislative session, keep an eye on the relationship between state Treasurer John Kennedy and Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration. That relationship hit new lows this year when Kennedy tried — unsuccessfully — to cut state consulting contracts and government positions.

  During the debate, Kennedy noted roughly two dozen Jindal vetoes that cut funding to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from 2008 to 2011. Yet, somehow those NGOs still got taxpayer money in the form of state contracts. Connecting the dots required no effort, and it was a pretty hefty allegation from Kennedy, who just happened to let that information slip into his committee testimony as the session wound down.

  According to Kennedy, the NGOs secured funding from department heads for the same budget items that Jindal vetoed. Examples: Volunteers for Youth Justice, $65,000 vetoed and $210,000 contracted through last year by the Department of Public Safety; New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, $100,000 vetoed and $21,495.75 contracted through 2010 by Louisiana Economic Development.

  Division of Administration spokesman Michael DiResto wrote in an email that Kennedy is "one confused politician making goofy accusations based on his inability to tell the difference between apples and oranges." DiResto said the administration routinely partners with nonprofits to provide specific services related to departmental programs or goals. Those functions aren't related to the vetoes, he said.

  DiResto also pointed to the "properties of the Excel file from the Treasurer's Office," which identifies the author as Preston Robinson. He contends Kennedy hired Robinson under a consulting contract in 2009, and then hired him as staff toward the end of the agreement.

  "It does not appear, based on this Excel file, that he's occupying his time doing work related to the actual role and responsibility of the Treasurer's Office, nor that he understands that work," DiResto said of Robinson. "While I don't know whether the period of Mr. Robinson's overlap as a paid contractor and a state employee violates any rules, it certainly raises interesting questions of propriety in the office of the self-appointed scourge of questionable contracts."

  Deputy State Treasurer Jason Redmond said Robinson was hired to oversee the relocation of several treasury offices, a move that was a "very intensive effort in a short period of time." Robinson responded admirably, he said.

  "We found his work so impressive that he was brought on as a member of the team as a fellow deputy treasurer," Redmond said. "We specifically made sure he was not paid out of the contract for the period of time he became  employed."

  That any exchange between Kennedy and Team Jindal has come to this is an indication that the relationship will only get rockier. It's an open secret that Kennedy's camp is eyeing the Governor's Mansion in 2015, and that Jindal won't readily give up control of the fourth floor of the Capitol, where the governor's office is located, even after he leaves office. The official line from his camp is that Jindal may run again one day after sitting out a term.

  While the administration managed to kill Kennedy's cost-cutting bills this session, many believe those measures are promising. Still, as Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater rightly noted, Kennedy's proposals were based largely on outdated employment figures and expired contracts. Kennedy's ideas sprang from the now-defunct Streamlining Commission, and some of  the 2009 data sets just don't hold water anymore.

  His ideas, however, still hold appeal. Kennedy should heed Rainwater's criticism and spend the next 10 months crafting new bills using updated information. And the administration, for its part, should give Kennedy all the info he needs. It might change the tone of the debate next year. It might even change Team Jindal's fiscal policies.

  Until then, it's all about gaining or maintaining a political edge, which will get us nowhere — except, perhaps, to  another point of being mildly entertained.

Jeremy Alford is a freelance journalist in Baton Rouge. Email him: jeremy@jeremyalford.com. Follow him on Twitter: @alfordwrites.

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