Lawmakers Load Louisiana Budget With Pet Projects New


Lawmakers load Louisiana budget with pet projects

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – With a surprising post-pandemic push in tax collection, Louisiana lawmakers have packed the state budget with tens of millions of dollars in pet projects decided by legislative leaders in closed-door negotiations.

The budget sent to Governor John Bel Edwards for the fiscal year that begins July 1 contains at least $ 49 million in allocations for local parks, museums, towns and villages, sports complexes, agencies for purpose non-profit and parish road works. In addition, an additional $ 27 million in unspent tax collections from the current fiscal year has also been directed to similar add-ons.

“There were more resources” this year, said Senate Speaker Page Cortez, a Republican from Lafayette. “We were able to spend more money on some of the needs and wants that are out there.”

For example, Ruston will receive $ 125,000 for a skate park. The Town of Youngsville will receive $ 250,000 for recreational facilities. The Winn Parish Police Jury will receive $ 1 million for road repairs. The parish of Pointe Coupee will receive $ 2 million for its prison. The Central Athletic Foundation will receive $ 2 million. The East Baton Rouge Parish Parks Commission will receive $ 200,000 to upgrade the local zoo and a nearby park. The parish of St. Martin will receive $ 500,000 to purchase land.

It’s a gift of over $ 76 million to outside groups and local municipalities that have their own tax base or other funding sources. And the tally doesn’t include the millions of dollars for other familiar projects lawmakers added in a separate construction bill that spends a large surplus.

The spending decisions came as lawmakers said they couldn’t muster enough money to give teachers the full $ 1,000 salary increase they discussed earlier in the meeting. session and that they rejected a request to increase spending from the general state fund for early learning programs. Instead, they give teachers $ 800 and they are always looking for ways to fund the expansion of early childhood education.

But the stipends give lawmakers the ability to return home after the session and list the financial gains they’ve earned for their districts, attend pioneers for projects they’ve helped fund, and s ‘give credit for new police cars, road repairs and recreational equipment.

A decade of budget deficits wiped out many of the legislative additions that lawmakers routinely slipped into the operating budget. But after a 2018 tax deal stabilized finances and Louisiana began to see surpluses, lawmakers in that term passed a return to hog-laden spending plans.

Legislative leaders offered vague explanations when asked how they chose which “MPs’ amendments” won support.

Cortez – who noted that local projects are only a small portion of the $ 38 billion operating budget – said he left the development of the list of goals to finance chairman Bodi White.

White, a Republican from the center, said senators had “needs in their district.” We have set a range of dollars and they have made their requests known to us. “

House Appropriations Speaker Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, a Republican from Houma, said, “You are trying to be as fair as possible in trying to identify priorities.”

The Zeringue state region – which is also represented by the second House Republican, Tanner Magee – seems particularly poised to benefit from the additions, as do the parishes and towns where other legislative leaders live.

In the parish of Terrebonne, for example, a local food bank will receive $ 300,000, a sports complex will receive $ 500,000, a local dike council will receive $ 600,000, the parish will receive $ 1 million to help build a new health office and buildings. economic development projects in downtown Houma will receive $ 900,000.

In a series of budget amendments, $ 12 million in road projects have been added for Lafayette, where Cortez lives.

Many of the pet law projects involve money for road works, repairs to water and sewer systems, and local school systems. But other dollars are available to fund these items.

School districts receive billions in federal pandemic aid outside the state budget, the state has a priority program to direct dollars to road and bridge projects, and lawmakers create a program of 300 million dollars to fund water system upgrades. Meanwhile, municipalities are receiving their own influx of federal coronavirus aid they could spend on items lawmakers have added to the state budget.

Edwards, a Democrat, could strip individual projects of his article veto power.

But the predominantly Republican legislature sent Edwards the budget bills early enough that they could try to overturn one of those veto decisions before the close of session on June 10 and guarantee that the dollars will go to their favorite projects.

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