12 May 2008

Committee action, May 12: SB 796, SB 106, SB 672

SB 796 by Sen. Joe McPherson would allow the state to issue more debt by excluding from the debt ceiling any debt backed by a statutory tax or assessment. Practically speaking, this would take the TIMED program debt out of calculating the limit, meaning the state could borrow more for other purposes.

He told the Senate Finance Committee this would “keep us from what we do so well, beat up on ourselves” by making debt statistics per capita look better. He said it would be a more accurate representation of the actual debt capacity of the state and it would not, he insisted, allow more extravagant spending even as TIMED took about half of the debt.

After some discussion, Sen. Jack Donahue learned that the ceiling was calculated just once a year. He also wondered whether this was fiscally responsible given that the cost of projects can balloon in cost over their lifespans – debt may be capped, but expenses aren’t. McPherson insisted this was more a cosmetic change and that expenses if in the form of debt still are covered under the cap.

The bill was reported favorably without objection.

SB 106 would require greater reporting by nongovernmental organizations to relevant legislative committees in order to have state money appropriated to them. Sen. Blade Morrish said it was taking a joint resolution passed during the recent special session and putting it into law.

Sen. John Alario said putting it into statute was good but he said it wasn’t exactly like the resolution and so he wanted more time to merge the two. Sen. Lydia Jackson said the bill should be more general than the resolution since the law itself would make changes less flexible. Morrish agreed to address these concerns and voluntarily deferred.

SB 672 would increase legislative salaries to 35 percent of what members of the U.S. Congress received – in practical terms, nearly $51,000 a year for a part-time job not even including the per diem and office allowance (being doubled as well) which would make state legislators among the highest paid in the nation. Sen. Ann Duplessis said the excess monies just declared made this more affordable than ever.

There were no questions and no objections; the bill was reported favorably.

Fiscal responsibility is in the eye of the beholder.

TUESDAY: HB 808 is scheduled to be heard by the House Health and Welfare Committee.

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