Lawmakers say budget process needs change

State Rep. Lenar Whitney, R-Houma, speaks Tuesday at the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Houma.
Chris Heller/Staff

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By Aaren Gordon
Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, February 24, 2015 at 7:40 p.m.

Several members of the local legislative delegation agreed Tuesday that the state has to change its budget structure as it faces a $1.6 billion deficit for the coming fiscal year.

Addressing the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce, Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, said the state cannot continue to use patchwork financing with one-time revenue to balance the budget

Allain took issue with Gov. Bobby Jindal, who on Friday is releasing his proposed budget that is expected to include $400 million in cuts to higher education.

“With the first glimpse of what we’re seeing so far, him handing a $400 million cut to higher ed, we’re going to have to find some other means of financing. I don’t think this region and this area can afford to devastate higher ed in that way,” Allain said.

Allain, who’s on the budget committee, said the total budget is $29.1 billion and every year legislators have to balance the budget, which means making cuts to compensate for a deficit.

“The amount of dedicated funds that we have in the constitution and that are statutorily dedicated funds have only given us $26 billion. We only have discretion on how to spend about $2 billion of that and some years not even that much,” Allain said.

This may mean reducing some dedicated funds, he said.

“We cannot prioritize spending if it’s all dedicated. We can’t work with 10 percent of the budget. And we need to go up there, if we weren’t handcuffed as we are, and set priorities for the state that’s best for everybody,” Allain said. “I don’t see any way short of doing a constitutional convention or a limited constitutional convention to undo it.”

Rep. Lenar Whitney, R-Houma, said she doesn’t think this imbalance is a tax-adjusting matter but a matter of government learning how to pay its bills differently.

“We have to look at the tax credits that the state is accepting, the tax rebates and the tax subsidies the state is paying. Are we really paying out more money than we are collecting?” Whitney said. “We can keep out constitutionally dedicated funds intact, but we certainly have to look at the way we fundamentally pay bills in Louisiana.”

Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, discussed a bill he will be introducing to make sure money going from gaming is directed toward education.

“This would ensure the educational future of our state because this is dedicated. You have two undedicated areas of government, one being higher education, the second being health care. What more important two issues that we have in our state than those two?” Harrison said.

Rep. Gordon Dove, R-Houma, said some difficult decision are going to have to be made.

“With that we’ll go to Baton Rouge and get it done like we do every year,” he said.

Staff Writer Aaren Gordon can be reached at 857-2209 or [email protected].

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