05 May 2008

Committee action, May 5: SB 527, SB 1, SB 672, SB 772

SB 527 by Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Chairman Rob Marionneaux would replace the present cumbersome if not illusory current capital outlay system. Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis called the situation “untenable” with the current system that allows tremendous overcommitments and that it needed reform to better reflect the reality of what actually happened in the process. She also said the request for a local share on projects of 20 percent (maximum) would create a better distribution of funds, sending money to projects that are really needed and local governments that really needed them. She also thought a feasibility study (done by the state from information provided) should be part of the process, and wanted to maintain a $200 million spending cap and a Nov. 1 deadline for inclusion.

Sen. Robert Adley wanted more specifics about feasibility, and while the representatives didn’t want to commit to specifics at this time, Adley thought it was important to put specific language in the bill at this time defining the legislative authority. He also was concerned about the appeal process as it also would be established by the Division of Administration and was not specific at this time. Other than these things, Adley said the only difference he saw with this and his SB 1 was no cap on total authorized projects which allowed maximal gubernatorial discretion in deciding what to fund. Davis argued a cap would unnecessarily limit cash flow management. Adley argued it could be done through changing the law that would let a legislative committee make adjustments rather than leaving it to the governor.

Sen. Yvonne Dorsey wanted an amendment to push the deadline to Dec. 15, to allow elections being settled during election years to be held and all legislators could participate in the process. Davis did not seem to think that would be a problem, and the amendment was adopted without objection.

Adley came back with amendments. Rules promulgated would be approved by budget committees and clarifications of committees to approve things and effective dates. They were accepted without objection. After some other questions, Adley moved to approve and it was done without objection.

After approving SB 527, Adley asked that his SB 1 be amended to duplicate SB 527, and approved. This was done.

SB 672 would provide a pay raise for legislators to full-time status. Author Sen. Ann Duplessis said that after a lot of prayer and research she now wanted to amend the bill from a $70,000 base pay to tie it to the pay of members of Congress, members making 30 percent and leaders more – making it closer now to $50,000. Unvouched expenses also were doubled. These amendments were adopted without objection.

Sen. Eric LaFleur pointed out that at this level compared to that derived by the previous commission to study compensation was higher. Sen. Jack Donahue also said there needed to be more study of what the Legislature actually does to tie it to a pay level. In response, Duplessis said something like that hasn’t been done because of “cameras.” Sen. Sharon Weston Broome said enough work had been done in various places and that there was no need for further study.

Sen. John Alario, however, preached caution in light of cuts being contemplated elsewhere in the budget. Even so, Duplessis argued, the bill should advance and the bill could be held pending other budget discussions. But that was not convincing and so she asked to defer the bill until next week.

SB 772 would bank surplus funds recognized during a legislative session that could be sued for tax rebates or cuts. Sen. Troy Hebert said it would increase fiscal discipline and encourage returning excess monies to the citizenry.

Alario thought maybe it should not be all monies, but a proportion. Rep. Joel Robideaux said he was open to that. Alario also thought maybe liens should not be prohibited from being placed on these give-backs. Hebert said he was amenable to such a change. Alario thought overall the bill was better than “repealing a bunch of taxes.”

Donahue asked how this bill differed from others that were to allow rebates checks from nonrecurring funds. Robideaux said the money would be captured before the Legislature got to it and automatically be available for redistribution back. Sen. Mike Walsworth, however, noted that surpluses came about regardless of whether there is legal recognition of it, allowing unrecognized surpluses to avoid going into the fund, so the bill could be subverted.

Sen. Lydia Jackson, however, thought the concept too limiting that the money only could be distributed to taxpayers, or draw interest to eventually have that done. She said therefore it could not be used for general tax relief and in case the state wanted to spend it on other things. She argued bills like this ceded the Legislature’s authority. Hebert said perhaps it could be broadened to earmark money for tax relief, but insisted it remain locked from other uses.

Given the budgetary considerations ongoing, Finance Chairman Mike Michot asked if Hebert would defer the bill a week, and he was agreeable to that.

“The wisest member.”
Duplessis, after Donahue said he would have liked for input from Alario who he called “our oldest member.”

“I remember discussing this with Gov. Claiborne when I was first elected …”
Alario, on SB 672.

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