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May 30, 2010 3:26 PM by Chris Welty

More Than $10 Million in Earmarks Added to Budget Bill

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - As they cut colleges and charity
hospitals, budget-crafters in the House slipped in dollars for
local festivals, cattle fences, playgrounds, museums, town fire
stations and pages of pet projects in their districts back home.
More than $10 million in legislative earmarks were quietly added
to the $25 billion budget bill, with no public discussion of them,
by the House Appropriations Committee as it wrapped up its work on
the spending plans late last week.
Parish councils on aging got money as war veterans' homes got
cut by the committee. Municipal law enforcement agencies received
line-item grants while state prisons lost funding. Local economic
development agencies are in line for dollars while a state economic
development fund was drained and left empty.
Lawmakers say the dollars help supply needed services and
programs that state agencies don't supply, and they fill gaps for
towns and municipalities struggling to provide fire, police, sewage
and other services.
"We have needs all across this state, and members have a
tremendous amount of needs in their districts," said House Speaker
Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown.
Tucker said the add-ons were a small amount when looking at the
entire budget.
Critics say the items have no place in a budget that should
provide for state government operations, particularly as the House
panel stripped $68 million from the state's charity hospital system
and $50 million from public colleges.
"It's always worrisome when you see large budget cuts to
critical areas, and then you see these types of amendments added
back on, knowing full well there will be more added in the
Senate," said Barry Erwin, head of the government watchdog group
Council for A Better Louisiana.
Tucker and Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin both
noted the dollars added in the so-called "member amendments" were
fewer than in previous years when the state had more money and
fewer budget problems. But the Senate hasn't put its pet projects
in the budget bill yet.
Last year, lawmakers added $34 million in earmarks into the
budget, though Gov. Bobby Jindal cut $3 million of them with his
line-item veto.
The dollars for the pet projects aren't doled out evenly - or
with any open discussion of who gets what. Fannin, D-Jonesboro,
said he determined the amount each House member got, and he said
that "depends on if you're a chairman, a vice chairman, that kind
of thing."
Among the add-ons: the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department
would get $25,000 for its Cops and Clergy Program, the Vernon
Parish Police Jury would get $20,000 for fairground cattle fences,
the city of Denham Springs would get $25,000 for the Kids Korner
Playground, the city of New Orleans would get $50,000 to provide
local grants for homeless services, the Algiers Development
District would get $300,000 and Gretna Fest would get $200,000.
An array of local fire departments, water and sewage projects
and local road construction would get state tax dollars. A list of
cities, towns and villages would get dollars with no explanation of
how they would be spent at all.
"I have people who need water. I have people who need the
roads," Fannin said of the types of projects he added to the
budget. "I don't blow it. It's in water, it's in sewers, it's in
those kinds of things."
Tucker said lawmakers have gotten rid of the litany of
questionable non-governmental organizations that had been funded in
past years and have winnowed the earmarks down to what he considers
legitimate needs.
"I'm sure there are some, and a number perhaps, that are worthy
causes and things that people need in their community," Erwin
said.
But he said the state budget should focus on state needs and
shouldn't prop up local governments that have their own streams of
local financing.
Erwin had no expectation lawmakers would trim the earmarks,
however.
"At this juncture, there's probably just no way to turn the
spigot off," he said.

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