The deteriorating relationship between Gov. Piyush Jindal and the legislature, already strained over the debate about Jindal’s attempt to use one-time revenues to help close a gaping budget hole during the last legislative session, may be about to become even more estranged.
LouisianaVoice has learned from two independent sources that Jindal will likely nominate Deputy Chief of Staff Kristy Nichols to the post of interim Legislative Fiscal Officer to replace the recently-retired Gordon Monk.
One other source, however, said the interim appointee might well be John Carpenter, recently resigned as Chief Administrative Officer to Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden. That source said the interim Legislative Fiscal Officer would be appointed only on condition that he/she not apply for the permanent position.
Carpenter worked for more than two decades for the House Fiscal Division and at one time was staff director of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB), which will make the appointment of Monk’s replacement. Carpenter left the House fiscal post to work for Angéle Davis when she became Commissioner of Administration shortly after Jindal’s inauguration but subsequently left there to work for the Baton Rouge mayor whom he knew from when Holden served in the legislature.
The JLCB meets for two days this week, Tuesday and Wednesday, and sources say the committee will name an interim Legislative Fiscal Officer on Wednesday.
Jindal’s rumored effort to place Nichols in the position, whether on an interim or permanent basis, could be rife with controversy and stir even more resentment among legislators who have seen any semblance of independence from the governor’s office steadily erode during Jindal’s tenure. Unlike any other state, Jindal was able to name both the Speaker of the House and the Senate President and a compliant Legislature has acquiesced in every instance.
Monk, after 33 years in state government, finally became fed up earlier this month and announced his retirement citing increased workload, pressure, stress and infighting among legislators. He said the session, which began on March 12 with 18-hour days and ended on June 4 with budget battles, convinced him to walk away.
He announced on Aug. 3 that his last day would be Aug. 8 and the JLCB was originally scheduled to name his interim replacement on Aug. 6 but that announcement has already been delayed twice, creating speculation that this week’s committee meeting could generate rebellion among committee members.
Though the position of Legislative Fiscal Officer is one of the more low-profile positions in state government, the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO) is one of the more important agencies in state government.
Employees are required to be present during the session, often working to midnight, to address questions about bills from legislators. The pace was stepped up this year when Jindal pushed through the majority of his education package before Easter.
The LFO, a counterpart to the State Budget Office, is responsible for analyzing the governor’s revenue and spending proposals for the Legislature and is charged with generating fiscal notes on every bill filed in order to provide legislators with its analysis of the potential financial impact of proposed laws. In theory, the LFO is independent but in reality, it answers to the House Speaker and Senate President–both elected at Jindal’s direction.
Fiscal notes that reflect potential financial impact considered too high have been known to kill bills in the past.
It is those fiscal notes that have generated considerable consternation in the governor’s office as more than once the LFO’s projected financial impact has clashed with Jindal’s optimistic projections and word around the Capitol is that the governor wants to control the LFO so that he can also control the all-important fiscal notes.
Senate President John Alario has already confirmed that the interim appointee will not be one of the existing employees—including Staff Director Evan Brasseaux and Chief Economist Greg Albrecht. Albrecht recently crossed Jindal by contradicting the governor’s rosy economic outlook by depicting the state as still struggling to recover from the recession. That flash of independence probably doomed his chances—even if Jindal had not already decided on Nichols.
Nichols previously served as Interim Director of Social Services, as Secretary of the Department of children and Family Services and as a policy advisor on health and social services initiatives to Jindal where she worked on the passage of Jindal’s health care legislative package. Prior to Jindal’s taking office, she served as a policy advisor for his transition team.
She was named to her present position in June of 2010.
She has a bachelor’s of administration in business from the University of Tennessee and a master’s in communication from the University of Louisiana Lafayette.
With her degree in communications, Nichols could likely be counted on to generate fiscal notes that are more governor-friendly.
Just another day of transparency, accountability, good government and selecting appointees “on the basis of what they know, not who they know,” courtesy of Piyush Jindal.