No doubt, corruption is alive and well in Louisiana. In fact it is one of our growth industries. To combat this plague, honest citizens have to depend on law enforcement agencies like the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Orleans and watchdog groups like the Metropolitan Crime Commission. While these groups do an impressive job in tackling public sector wrongdoing, they don’t have the resources to deal with the majority of corruption that occurs in our state.
Some corruption is not criminal in nature; it just involves waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars. One office that is critical in locating waste in government spending is the office of Inspector General in the State of Louisiana.
Back in 1988, then Governor Buddy Roemer created this office. To his credit, Governor Bobby Jindal made the office permanent in 2008. He appointed Stephen Street, a lawyer with experience in the State Attorney General’s Office, to the position. Street operates his office with a miniscule budget of $1.7 million.
According to political and legislative watchdog C.B. Forgotston, “The IG, unlike the AG (One must be a public official to even get an opinion.), accepts all reports from ordinary citizens and state employees, including those sent anonymously.” Needless to say, it plays an extremely vital role in our state government. With our state’s abysmal track record of public corruption, it is essential that this office be fully funded and expanded so even more investigations can be launched.
Unfortunately, a typical Louisiana politician, State Representative Joe Harrison (R-Napoleonville) has stripped the office of its funding. His misguided action was taken because he laughably claimed to be worried about the budget deficit. Harrison noted that the state can save funds by closing this office and that the Office of Inspector General just duplicates services performed by other state agencies like the Legislative Auditor and the Attorney General’s office.
Harrison’s woeful arguments do not make any sense. Anyone who follows state government knows that the Legislative Auditor’s Office and the LA Attorney General are already overloaded with cases to investigate. Additionally, as noted by Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, only the Inspector General is charged with uncovering wasteful spending. In a budget of $25 billion, there is plenty of waste in Louisiana state government and plenty of investigations that Inspector General Stephen Street needs to launch.
The real reason that Representative Harrison stripped this funding was because he was upset at the Inspector’s investigation into the State Fire Marshal Butch Browning. It seems that Representative Harrison did not take kindly to Street’s office following up on complaints from the public and examining the activities of his friend. So, he retaliated by stripping the funding for the office in a crude example of Louisiana political payback. Sadly, the members of the House Appropriations Committee followed his lead and voted to approve this funding elimination by an 11-4 vote.
It is up to the entire legislature to restore funding by approving an amendment to House Bill 1, the state budget. Louisiana citizens, who are concerned about our state’s image and want to end the insufferable stigma of political corruption, should call the Louisiana Legislature and demand this money be restored. Legislators can be contacted at #225-342-6945.
If there is one office in Louisiana that is essential, it is the office of Inspector General. Not only does this office perform a vital task, but it actually generates much more money for state taxpayers that it costs to operate.
Last year, Street’s office uncovered $3.2 million in waste, fraud and abuse, providing a net return of $1.5 million to state taxpayers. As noted by Goyeneche, the office saved taxpayers even more money because its mere existence discouraged wasteful spending and other misconduct.
As of today, the funds have not been restored and Representative Harrison is standing behind his decision to shut down this vital office.
Stripping this office of its funds just tells the entire nation that Louisiana is not ready to clean up our corruption and change our tawdry political image. If this is not corrected, it will be one more clear case of politics as usual winning at the expense of the honest citizens of Louisiana
Jeff Crouere is a native of New Orleans, LA and he is the host of a Louisiana based program, “Ringside Politics,” which airs at 7:30 p.m. Fri. and 10:00 p.m. Sun. on WLAE-TV 32, a PBS station, and 7 till 11 a.m.weekdays on WGSO 990 AM in New Orleans and the Northshore. For more information, visit his web site at www.ringsidepolitics.com. E-mail him at [email protected]">[email protected].