The regular session ends in just two weeks, and the Senate Finance Committee is now grappling with the budget sent over from the House. Governor John Bel Edwards expects a difficult two weeks.
“You’re going to see the Senate struggle with putting this bill in the best possible posture,” the governor states.
Senator Sharon Hewitt of Chalmette is new to the legislature and the Finance Committee, and admits it’s overwhelming at times.
“I find this very frustrating. There seems to be a lot of moving parts,” she commented during Friday’s committee meeting. “There’s a lot of pots of money. There’s a lot of transfers, and I’m – whatever – finding it very difficult to sort out.”
The governor says one of the biggest problems is something the House put in the preamble to HB 1.
“It’s a funds sweep by another name,” Edwards says. “One of the ways that they supposedly ‘found’ or ‘saved’ a hundred million dollars is to take self-generated revenues and fees, and to use some portion of that to retire state debt.”
Those funds are being swept into the Bond Security and Redemption Fund because of the contingency language included in each bill enacting fees. It’s allowed if the state is ever too short of money to pay its debts, which Louisiana is required to do before appropriating any money for anything else.
“It is absolutely unnecessary because we have enough General Fund dollars to meet our debt obligations, so you don’t have to use self-generated revenue and fees to retire debt,” the governor says.
Edwards, who is an attorney, is also concerned about the constitutionality of what is essentially a money-laundering maneuver.
“By definition, if you are going to use a fee to retire state debt, it ceases to be a fee, and it becomes a tax,” he explains. “And I’m not even sure that you can do that in an even-numbered General Session, because we’re not supposed to be doing taxes.”
If the Senate leaves the fees sweep intact, and it is challenged in court -- or if the governor vetoes the budget because of the constitutional questions -- the state could end up with no budget at all.
Capitol Access is a production of WRKF in Baton Rouge.