Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, is defending a $2 million appropriation for the Baton Rouge Police Department that he secured in a spending bill lawmakers passed Thursday.
The bill has been criticized by some in the Legislature and also by government watchdog groups because of the way legislative leadership decided to allocate the money to more than 100 local projects behind closed doors in a conference committee.
But White says at least as far as the $2 million for the BRPD is concerned—which is one of the more generous earmarks in the bill–he was transparent and open about his commitment to securing money for the police, specifically for a pay raise.
“I didn’t do anything behind closed doors,” White says. “I said from the beginning my commitment was to help local government.”
White says the idea for the appropriation was his, not the mayor’s or the BRPD’s, and came about because of the need for a police pay raise.
“I know a lot of them, and have spent time with them and I support them,” White says. “I told them, when I saw what their salaries are and how many have been shot and killed over the last eight to 10 years, I just felt like I wanted to help them.”
White also says he talked to Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and to Steve Carter, who is running against Broome in the upcoming mayor’s race, to make them aware of his plans and to ask for their commitment in securing local matching funds if he locked down the state money.
“I told them if I could get $2 million to $3 million, would they match it and give police a raise and she said she would,” White says. “Steve told me he would also”
Reached for comment this morning, a spokesperson for Broome says the mayor first talked to White about additional money for police during the regular legislative session earlier this year.
“He knew how hard we are working to find efficiencies to give police a pay raise,” the mayor says in a statement. “He offered us help and we appreciate any help we can get.”
Carter, one of several Republican challengers who could face the mayor in a runoff, says he also discussed the appropriation with White.
“I was excited about it and told him in the event I am elected I’ll do everything I can to get a match,” Carter says.
The money for the BRPD is one of 113 local appropriations that was placed in the supplemental appropriations bill earlier this week by legislative leadership during a conference committee.
The process was criticized by some lawmakers, including some members of the House Appropriations Committee, who reportedly said they didn’t even know what was in the bill.
The process was also blasted by the Public Affairs Research Council, which released a statement Thursday saying the list of projects is, “… essentially a resurrection of the old ‘slush funds’ that once served political favors at the expense of more pressing needs of the state. We thought that time had passed, but apparently, the new breed of legislators is not so new after all.”
Among the other local items that received funding from the bill: Sen. Cleo Fields’ Louisiana Leadership Institute, which received $500,000 and the Mayor’s Healthy City Initiative, which received $250,000.
The Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the LSU Ag Center also received funding in the bill for general operating expenditures— $2 million and $750,000 respectively.