- Associated Press - Friday, June 2, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Though Louisiana lawmakers have talked for years about being handcuffed in their budget decision-making, the House on Friday refused to unlock those shackles.

Legislators spurned a proposal from Rep. Rob Shadoin to remove protections for more than $900 million, to make it easier to shuffle dollars around in the state operating budget. The constitutional amendment received a 60-33 vote. It needed 70 votes to pass and advance to the Senate for consideration.

Shadoin, a Ruston Republican, said he believes people should have to come to the Legislature periodically to defend their funding and shouldn’t have an untouchable stream of money. He said his proposal would allow lawmakers to set priorities and determine whether they want to give more money to higher education, for example.

“We have a lot of things in our constitution that micromanage, I think, our ability to efficiently manage state government,” Shadoin said. He said dollars were locked up by lawmakers who “didn’t have the collective guts to do the prioritizing from year to year.”

Critics defended targeted funds, like the gas tax dedication for transportation and the lottery dedication for K-12 education, saying those represented promises made to residents about how their dollars would be spent when taxes were passed and the lottery was enacted.

“That was the selling point of the lottery, that it goes to education,” said Rep. Pat Smith, a Baton Rouge Democrat who voted against the bill.

Smith said before lawmakers unlock protected funds, they should look at the $7 billion spent annually on various tax break programs. Shadoin agreed, but noted such efforts have gone nowhere in the House.

The protected dollars, called “dedicated funds” at the Louisiana Capitol, are locked up by either the state constitution or state laws that dictate how certain dollars must be spent. The dedications were determined by lawmakers in deals over bills, to persuade the public to support spending plans or to protect fees or taxes that people pay for specific services.

In many instances, those decisions often made decades ago haven’t been reviewed or debated again. Louisiana has about 380 dedicated funds created by statute, and another 13 funds protected by the constitution.

Rep. Julie Stokes, a Kenner Republican who voted against the bill, and Rep. Walt Leger, a New Orleans Democrat who voted for it, applauded Shadoin for forcing the debate. They said it reveals that lawmakers who have talked about how their hands are tied in budgeting also don’t want to do anything to correct that.

“It’s almost like you have a hypothesis that you’re testing … that people don’t really want to un-dedicate these things. They just want to keep talking about un-dedicating these things,” Leger said. “This speaks volumes.”

A separate proposal to unlock some protected funds created by statute was withdrawn by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican, after senators made it clear the measure was doomed.


House Bill 236: www.legis.la.gov


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