By Julia Arenstam
Just hours before the state Legislature began a special session Tuesday, Louisiana Treasurer John Schroder addressed the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce about his concerns over the state budget.
“People have lost faith in this process,” the newly elected treasurer said, citing a recent study by LSU that found 78 percent of residents have little or no trust in government.
Schroder was elected to the statewide office in November after serving 10 years as a state representative for St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes.
“There’s one simple word government doesn’t hardly ever use,” Schroder said Tuesday. “No.”
As a representative, he served on the House Appropriations Committee, a position that pushed him to study the state budget, he said.
One of his main goals is to force the state to live within its means, Schroder said.
“Whether you spend $2 and you’re broke, or you spend $2 million and you’re broke, you’re still broke,” he said to the room of local business men and women.
According to his calculations, the state’s income is growing at a rate of about 6 percent. However, individual income in the state is growing at about 1 percent, he said.
“How do you sustain this?” Schroder said.
The state’s income growth should be less than personal income growth, he said.
If the legislature were to pass Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposed budget, it would be the third-largest budget in state history, Schroder said.
“We need people who will spend your money like it’s theirs,” he told the crowd.
Schroder’s proposed “standstill” budget would have left spending at the same level as the year before but was altered due to mandatory pay raises and benefit increases, he said, citing the state’s guaranteed retirement program.
“This is happening in most levels of government,” Schroder said.
The state’s pension is currently $18.6 billion “in the hole,” he said.
A bill filed in the Senate would have revamped the pension system for new state employees, aligning it more with the retirement system used in private businesses. However, it was opposed by unions and the governor and eventually failed without a vote.
Schroder also discussed include the state’s Medicare system and a failed House bill that could have addressed fraud in the system. The capital outlay process also allows governors to “blackmail legislators,” giving them money for projects if they abide by the legislative agenda, Schroder said.
During this special session, the Legislature will consider a bill to create the Louisiana Checkbook website in an effort to provide transparency about state fiscal information.
Schroder said he strongly supports the measure and is looking to create the program even if it isn’t approved by the legislature.
The bill was also presented during the state’s first special session this year and the recently concluded regular session. Rep. Taylor F. Barras, R-New Iberia, has sponsored the legislation.