Amphibians or nursing homes? Senator Hewitt's dedicated funds bill passes Senate.

One of the things that makes writing the state budget in Louisiana so difficult every year is the state’s abundance of constitutional and statutory dedicated funds, where specific revenue sources are tied to specific expenditures by the constitution or by law.

Those dollars are essentially off-limits to legislators when it comes to prioritizing what will be funded and what won’t in a given year, which can be a big concern if revenue falls short and high priority items are in danger of not being funded.

That potential problem is a reality this year as Louisiana grapples with a budget shortfall of a few hundred million dollars and faces potential cuts to college scholarships, the possible closure of hospitals across the state, or the worry that tens of thousands of nursing home residents will suddenly find themselves turned out of their beds this summer.

To Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, those priorities are probably more important than, say, the Louisiana Reptile and Amphibian Research Fund. But as things currently stand, that fund, as a statutory dedication, enjoys legal protections that the hospitals, college students and nursing home patients do not.

Hewitt’s Senate Bill 400 was the result of a year’s worth of work and 11 hearings by a special subcommittee to look at any statutory dedications that may have outlived their usefulness, or that could be worthwhile efforts that just don’t quite meet the threshold of being protected at the expense of other priorities. The subcommittee identified several dozen out of more than 400 statutory dedications in Louisiana that should be eliminated or reclassified to give legislators more flexibility to fund its highest priorities during the annual budget process.

SB400 came before the Senate Monday after having survived a close vote in the Finance Committee in which a few funds to be closed or altered were stripped out of the bill. Knowing that it might face similar treatment from the full Senate, Hewitt made the case for why eliminating statutory dedications would be a good financial decision for Louisiana.

“We currently have $4.2 billion in dedicated funding in an $8.6 billion budget,” Hewitt told her colleagues. “When our constituents ask us, ‘why can't we prioritize our funding and prioritize our budget?’ one of the excuses that we use all the time is that we have too much of it dedicated, leaving only health care and higher education by which to make cuts. This is real budget reform, this is an opportunity to put more money in the state general fund and allow the Legislature to do our job and to prioritize our funding.”

May 1, 2018  - SOURCE - Watchdog.org - By Dave Lemery

 

Senator Sharon Hewitt