14 March 2008

Floor action, Mar. 14: SB 11

SB 11 would transfer transportation-related revenues into capital outlays for transportation that currently go into the general fund. However, these revenues could stay in the general fund if there were estimated mid-year deficits. Speaker Jim Tucker said although he had preferred that the “undedication” part not be in the bill, he said the situation where this would happen should be rare, because the Budget Stabilization Fund could first make up a deficit and if it couldn’t, the Legislature likely would be called into session anyway to deal with an obvious fiscal crisis where other adjustments could be made. Tucker also pointed out that funds go into the Priority Program and would not go to parishes to make their own decisions on project funding, a sentiment expressed by some legislators that was a Senate amendment authored by Sen. Troy Hebert that he said “failed miserably.”

Rep. George Cromer asked whether the phase-in of seven years could not be sped up. Tucker said seven years was chosen because of capacity constraints. Cromer suggested maybe that could be improved and thus cut the phase-in for three or four years. Tucker indicated he didn’t think that could happen.

Rep. Joel Robideaux then offered the amendment Tucker had noted had been defeated. He said it was a fairer process in a system that was overbooked that would allocate money by parish for the project, even as the Department of Transportation would decide which project within the Priority Program within the parish would be built. It said it would take politics out of the decision process as to what projects get decided to be pursued off the list. He also said if parishes couldn’t cooperate on roads crossing boundaries, that project wouldn’t get done.

Rep. Eddie Lambert thought this lack of coordination would create a worse situation. Rep. Dorothy Hill also noted that in some rural areas there would be so little in the way of taxes going to transportation that their allotment through this amendment would be insufficient. Robideaux pointed out that sales taxes for vehicles went to the parish of residence, not sale. Hill said her district’s income was lower and their cars older; Robideaux repeated he thought her area would be better off under the amendment.

Tucker argued that he didn’t think the sales taxes would necessarily go back to the parish of residence of the buyer. He also didn’t like the idea of removing collectivity from the process and objected to the “balkanization” of revenues. He said the bill wording would divert money to ports projects in parishes without them and the money could not be used.

Robideaux said only a few legislators had the clout to use the current system to their advantage, and that “we have to get away from ‘who you know’” so that a fairer system would be created. He also said the bill would shift money away from rural areas since the under-funded Priority Program was weighed in the urban direction. The amendment failed 30-70.

Tucker closed saying the bill would properly fund the process. The bill passed 105-0.

Immediately after bill passage, Rep. Juan LaFonta went on a rant about how he and others such as the Black Caucus weren’t getting enough, or even any, access to the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration, claiming they couldn’t get answers about what bills were about and were rebuffed when they wanted to voice their opinions. He said there was not transparency and he wouldn’t be quiet anymore.

It might have been more the author of the bill than the logic.
Robideaux, about Hebert’s large defeat on his amendment.

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