(The Center Square) – The Senate Finance Committee on Friday parked a bill meant to encourage lawmakers to only spend 98 percent of the general fund money the state expects to collect.
The bill still could be reconsidered, though the regular session must end June 1. Legislative leaders expect to call a special session immediately afterward.
Rep. Rick Edmonds, a Baton Rouge Republican, said his bill, which would go into effect next fiscal year, would force the governor to craft an executive budget that calls for spending no more than 98 percent of the money the Revenue Estimating Conference expects to flow into the general fund. He said the change would lead to more responsible budgeting and lead to surpluses that can be used for one-time expenses.
Edmonds said it would not prevent the legislature from spending more if they saw fit.
“It is a different way to think about doing a budget,” he said.
Matthew Block, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ executive counsel, disputed Edmonds’ reading of the bill, saying it would in fact put a hard cap on spending that the legislature could not exceed unless it changed the law, potentially leading to unnecessary cuts to health care, higher education and other areas. He pointed out that Edmonds, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, on Thursday voted for a budget that would spend all of the available dollars.
“What this is really about is trying to tie the governor’s hands in the executive budget,” Block said. “We want to see what the governor would reduce.”
Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, praised the bill and said she wished local governments would take a similar approach. But some committee members worried about the impact of the spending cuts it could lead to. The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates it would keep about $200 million a year out of the general fund.
“We just have needs in this state,” said Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles. “I have a university back home, for example, that’s hanging by its fingernails.”
Also on Friday, Senate Finance approved House Bill 269 by Rep. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, that would let lawmakers tap the Budget Stabilization Fund, better known as the “rainy day” fund, during a declared emergency. Currently, lawmakers with a two-thirds vote can access the fund only when there is a projected revenue shortfall.
Carter said he had hurricanes and floods in mind when he filed the bill.
“We can’t access our ‘rainy day’ fund when we have a true rainy day,” he said.
Voters would have to ratify the change through a state constitutional amendment, which the House of Representatives advanced Friday.