Rushing to a committee meeting Wednesday morning, state Sen. Francis Thompson paused to express how tickled he is that the proposed state spending plan no longer calls for taking dollars from a boll weevil eradication fund.
“The governor proved he is a friend of the farmers,” said Thompson, D-Delhi.
Legislators won part of a battle with Gov. Bobby Jindal when amendments were adopted Tuesday to the proposed $25 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. However, more fighting looms as the budget heads to the House floor.
Faced with revenue shortfalls, the governor wants to take dollars from a variety of funds to help balance next year’s budget. The use of the funds is called a sweep because the administration would comb funds to accumulate enough dollars to add up to a substantial amount of money. The problem, as some legislators see it, is that those funds were set up for specific purposes, such as eradicating the boll weevil.
Farmers voluntarily pay $6 an acre to monitor against a resurgence in the Central American pest. The money is placed in a fund, where it builds into a healthy balance.
The amendments adopted by the House Committee on Appropriations — with no objections from the Jindal administration — removed some attempts to take dollars from funds, including the boll weevil money.
The bill no longer would grab $50,304 from a crab promotion and marketing fund or $420,908 from a fur public education and marketing fund. Those funds have dollars in them because of fees on crab traps and trapper’s licenses.
However, not everyone thought the amendments went far enough. Conservative politicians want state government to shrink instead of being propped up by fund sweeps.
The budget bills still would take dollars from funds set up to administer the concealed handgun permit process, abate litter and provide services to people with traumtic head and spinal cord injuries.
Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, the governor’s chief budget aide, argued that the sweeps simply take dollars that are unspent at the end of the fiscal year.
He said legislators and governors have been sweeping funds for the past 40 years.
Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway has been issuing news releases denouncing the governor’s budget balancing approach.
“It’s wrong what happened,” Holloway said, comparing the sweeps to “almost stealing.”
State Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain complained that the Jindal administration is trying to take money that does not even exist in a petroleum fund that he uses to run his agency.
Strain told legislators that the fund already is running low on money.
“There are no dollars to take,” he said.
Rainwater promised to take another look at the fund.
“If we’re wrong, we’re wrong,” he said.
State Rep. Jim Morris, R-Oil City, attempted to delete a number of the fund sweeps that would be kept in place even with the amendments.
“There may be a different way to plow the garden,” Morris said. “Just because you did it with a mule ..., doesn’t mean I can’t bring in a tractor,” he said.
Rainwater told Morris that the dollars from the funds and other sources would be used to fund health care, hospitals and education.
“This is preventing us from having to close hospitals,” he said.
Morris lost his bid to strip more than $20 million in fund sweeps.
But legislators used the waning minutes of a committee meeting to vow that the battle was just beginning.
By the time they spoke, Jindal’s aides were out of the room, trooping up the stairs toward the long hallway that would lead them out of the State Capitol.
Michelle Millhollon covers state budget issues for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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