Push to restrict La. spending advances in state capitol

Some lawmakers fear the plan will force cuts to services already threatened by economic downturn

Lawmakers debate budget amid coronavirus pandemic, talk about making cuts

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Louisiana’s budget committee advanced a quartet of bills that would limit how much lawmakers can spend each year Tuesday, May 5.

Baton Rouge Rep. Rick Edmonds’ bill would cap state spending at 98% of the revenue economists predict the state will collect. It advanced without objection.

“There’s sort of a philosophical idea that... we should spend every dollar that we get,” Edmonds said. “Most of us don’t operate our homes that way, and most of us don’t operate our businesses that way.”

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Republicans like Edmonds have pushed the idea for years, arguing that withholding revenue would prevent midyear cuts that are necessary when economists’ revenue projections turn out to be lower than the amount lawmakers agree to spend during the session.

If the economists’ projections are correct, however, withholding some revenue would create a surplus that rolls over into the next fiscal year. Louisiana law dictates how surplus dollars can be spent and a significant portion must be deposited into the state’s rainy day fund.

“If we had budgeted this way last year, I would contend that we’d be better prepared to handle this COVID-19 virus this year because we’d have some extra money in the budget that’s unappropriated but available to spend in a year when revenue will be below the forecast,” Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, said.

But some democrat lawmakers expressed concerns that the measure would force a two percent cut, mostly to higher education and health care, which are already on the chopping block while Louisiana battles a crashing economy.

“Because of the virus, it might not be a good time to start the clean slate,” Rep. Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge, said. “I just think it would be a travesty if we had to go back and cut (higher education) again.”

“You never make tough decisions on the mountaintops of life,” Edmonds said. “When things are going well, it’s easy to keep them going well. When things are tough, you have to think it through.”

The committee advanced another package of bills without objection that would limit how much the state budget can grow, year-to-year. Lawmakers would not be allowed to spend more than 105 percent of the previous year’s spending without a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

The measure also broadens the criteria used to define budget growth to include more economic factors.

“By broadening more we’re going to get a more conservative and, likely, a more realistic approach to what the limit should be,” the package’s author, Rep. Beau Beaullieu, R-New Iberia, said. “COVID-19 or not, I don’t think the timing really matters on how we want to approach the state’s finances or how we want to be responsible with the people’s money.”

All four bills now head to the House floor for debate.

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