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Jun 21, 2010 9:52 PM by Chris Welty

Lawmakers Add $30M in Pet Projects to Budget

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - State lawmakers revived millions of
dollars in pet projects Monday and added them to Louisiana's
spending plans for next year in the final hours of the legislative
session.
An estimated $30 million in legislators' earmarks for museums,
senior centers, water and sewage systems and an array of other
local projects were approved by the House and Senate, split near
evenly between each chamber for the upcoming budget year that
begins July 1.
Senate President Joel Chaisson added dozens of pages of earmarks
into a budget bill as part of his agreement with House
Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin to get the $26 billion
budget passed. Chaisson also added $5 million for the universities'
agricultural research centers and money for truancy and arts
programs.
Senators had previously removed all the House add-ons and
shuffled the dollars to offset other cuts in next year's budget. To
restore the earmarks - and add new ones from senators - Chaisson
tapped into several state funds, including a fund set aside to
respond to emergencies.
Chaisson defended the addition of the "member amendments" to
the spending plans, saying Fannin's budget requests were
reasonable.
"I applaud Rep. Fannin's tenacity in fighting for member
amendments which he believes are so important to folks back home,"
said Chaisson, D-Destrehan.
Critics called the move inappropriate after lawmakers approved
cuts to colleges and hospitals in next year's budget. They also
complained that dollars were taken from an emergency fund while
Louisiana is battling a massive oil spill on its shores and with
the heart of hurricane season fast approaching.
"Is there not some other place we can take this from? We're
fixing to go into hurricane season," said Rep. John Schroder,
R-Covington.
Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans, said, "How do we in good
conscience go back to our districts? It's a totally irresponsible
approach."
Fannin, D-Jonesboro, who largely controls the earmark process in
the House, called the add-ons worthwhile. He said the earmarks pay
for water and sewage projects in municipalities that can't afford
them and help fill gaps in services back home.
"There's a lot of real needs in this bill," he said.
Asked whether it was responsible to take money from the
emergency response fund to pay for the pet projects, Gov. Bobby
Jindal replied, "The overall budget was a result of compromise and
negotiations."
The dollars for the pet projects aren't doled out evenly - or
with any open discussion of who gets what. Fannin has said
lawmakers earn the earmarks through seniority, developing
relationships with other lawmakers and serving on the budget
committees.
The Senate voted 37-0 for the budget bill containing the local
projects, and the House agreed in a 79-15 vote. The spending plans
head to the governor, who can strip individual items from the
measure with his line-item veto.
Jindal said his office will review each earmark to decide
whether it should be funded.
"We haven't been shy about using the veto pen before and we'll
use it again," he said.

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