Public Budget Testimony Surprises With Savings Suggestions

Apr 15, 2015

While the Senate Finance Committee began working through the budget Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee was taking public testimony on it.

“Thank you for coming today for this testimony,” Appropriations chair Jim Fannin said in welcome, noting the weather made it more difficult than usual for many who turned up to add their input to the process. “We are appreciative for that,” he said.

Much of the public testimony went as expected: requests for higher allocations to cover jobs and services.

“I am now faced with two vacancies while the fall elections quickly approach us,” Terrebonne Parish Registrar of Voters Rhonda Rogers told the committee. “I cannot afford to lose two positions.”

“Please prioritize funding waiver services in this year’s budget,” urged Rhiannon Traigle, the mother of a boy with muscular dystrophy.

“This state is in a budget crisis, and we all understand that. But our families are in crisis, too,” was the plea of Elaine Morgan, another parent of a child with developmental disabilities.

But committee members got quite a surprise when juvenile justice advocates had their say.

“The administration’s proposed budget requests $3.5-million in additional spending to operate a new 72-bed secure facility,” began Rachel Gassert, with the Juvenile Justice Project. “The administration proposal would add more capacity to the system than the Office of Juvenile Justice says it needs.”

Theo Shaw with the Southern Poverty Law Center added, “When the Office of Juvenile Justice opens 72 new beds in this Bunkie facility, it should close 72 beds among its other facilities.”

Ruston Rep. Rob Shadoin didn’t quite understand what was being requested.

“You’re asking for $3.5-million?” Shadoin asked Gassert.

“No. I’m asking that the Office of Juvenile Justice does not get $3.5-million,” Gassert replied.

Shadoin was astounded.

“Well,” he said, as the attending public and his fellow committee members chuckled over his stunned expression. “Don’t let that out because there’ll be other people wanting it,” he added in a stage whisper.

Then he added, still obviously flabbergasted, “Okay. Uh, thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” a smiling Gassert replied.

Keeping the number of incarcerated juveniles steady is just one money-saving idea. What others might the public come up with, as their input on the budget continues today?

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