BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers Tuesday advanced proposals pushed by conservative Republicans to limit budgetary growth and spending, as a new legislative trend emerged of linking long-sought measures to the coronavirus outbreak in the pitch for passage.
With no objections, the House Appropriations Committee approved proposals that would cut the money available to lawmakers for spending in the annual budget, even as Louisiana is expected to face years of financial fallout from the virus’s impact on businesses and their workers.
Republicans said the current disaster highlights the need for stricter restraints on the state budget. They said if such provisions already had been in place, the state would have built up savings and kept agencies from increasing their spending to levels that likely will have to be cut with the loss of tax revenue because of the virus.
Democrats suggested the timing was wrong for such a move, considering the volatility of state finances, and said such proposals could force damaging cuts. But they are a minority on the committee, and none objected to sending the proposals to the full House for debate.
One measure by Republican Rep. Rick Edmonds of Baton Rouge would restrict lawmakers to spending only 98% of the general tax income expected to flow into the state treasury each year, keeping 2% off-limits from the annual operating budget.
The proposal would take effect in the budget year that begins July 1, 2021, keeping an estimated $200 million from being spent on state operating expenses in the first year.
Supporters said the restriction would hedge against the possibility that revenues come in short of what’s expected — or build up surpluses the state could sock away into savings and spend on roadwork and debt payments if tax collections meet or exceed expectations.
Edmonds has proposed the measure five times, but has been unable to gain final passage.
“It is a fiscal responsibility that we have to the taxpayers of this state to do our very best job to spend their money well,” he said.
Democrats questioned the wisdom of cutting dollars available to lawmakers for the annual budget when the state’s financial future is so uncertain.
“Because of this virus, this might not be time to start the clean slate,” said Rep. Barbara Carpenter, a Baton Rouge Democrat.
The Appropriations Committee also advanced legislation by Rep. Gerald “Beau” Beaullieu, a New Iberia Republican, that would rewrite Louisiana’s spending cap calculation to more tightly limit growth in government spending each year. The move would force more money into the rainy day fund. Similar proposals have stalled in prior years.
One measure would immediately lower the spending cap for the upcoming budget year, and the other proposals would change the constitution to make the lower calculation permanent if voters agree in an election.
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