Can the Legislature be Trusted with the Budget?

In his book, Inside the Carnival: Unmasking Louisiana Politics, LSU political science professor Wayne Parent opines that a strong executive branch is needed in Louisiana because the legislature (reflecting the state’s population) is simply too diverse when left to their own devices. After all, how can all those diverse demographics, traditions, cultural influences, backgrounds and political beliefs ever be able to agree on something as important as the state budget.

In this session, the legislature proved otherwise, bringing together diverse elements of the legislature to achieve a budget compromise on their own. The budget compromise was certainly respectable in that it didn’t entirely satisfy anyone, but contained a little something for everyone, including fiscal responsibility and budget cuts as well as a little extra for K-12 and higher education.

In addition, the overall budget has continued to shrink from $28.6 billion in 2008 to $25.4 billion in 2013. In addition, the budget in 2008 also had $1.2 billion in one-time money compared with none in 2013. Both of these facts are something to be very proud about.

Much of the credit should go to the Fiscal Hawks, who worked very hard over the past 6 years and were undeterred in their pursuit of a fiscally responsible agenda. Some of their achievements include lowering the expenditure level from $15.6 billion to $12.9 billion, requiring the revenue estimating conference to recognize all sources of funds to limit appropriation of contingencies and nonrecurring revenue and requiring general appropriation bills to have separate recommendations for discretionary and non-discretionary spending.

The Hawks were also helped with some out-of-the-box thinking from Rep. Joel Robideaux with respect to increasing the conference committee for HB 1, so that the diverse elements had a seat the table and, earlier, for crafting a revenue package that Republicans could support. These contributions and others, including spiking the income tax phaseout, led to Rep. Robideaux winning the Doc Hudson award (which is a really special thing that the House does in honor of a very special former member.)

But all the members of the legislature deserve credit for defying conventional expectations, including the budget conference leadership of both chambers, Senators John Alario, Jack Donahue and Eddie Murray and Representatives Chuck Kleckly, Jim Fannin, Lance Harris, Katrina Jackson, John Bel Edwards and Cameron Henry. As said earlier, everyone put in a lot of time and had to give a bit to reach a compromise.

Hopefully, this cooperation can continue onward as the state continues to face issues and challenges. Despite reductions in state spending, there is still widespread concern as to whether Louisiana is receiving the adequate bang for the buck on its expenditures. I would think that a  future goal would be to try to evaluate expenditures, including tax expenditures, to see if Louisiana is receiving the appropriate ROI or return on its investment. Businesses can quickly determine whether or not they are receiving sufficient ROI and quickly change their strategy. Why can’t Louisiana be focused on outcomes for both its direct expenditures as well as its tax expenditures.

Tim Burns, State Representative

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