PAR Releases Statement on House Bill 39
The Louisiana Legislature on October 15 passed House Bill 39, a supplemental appropriations bill containing 113 local pork projects totaling $22.6 million. There is much more in this piece of legislation that deserves careful scrutiny, but for now the glaring problem of these projects should be spotlighted. What was done and the way it was done are both a serious problem. With items ranging from $10,000 to $2 million, the project list was constructed by legislative leadership in a conference committee that met privately before bringing the amended bill to the Senate and House floors for approval. While some of the items are ostensibly for local jurisdictions’ “coronavirus expenses,” the list is essentially a resurrection of the old “slush funds” that once served political favors at the expense of more pressing needs of the state. We thought that time had passed, but apparently the new breed of legislators is not so new after all.
The Legislature identified money made available from the state health care budget to help address the multiple financial pressures brought upon the state in 2020. For example, the bill sent $85 million to the unemployment trust fund. There is no doubt that parishes, municipalities and sheriff offices across that state have real needs. But this is not the right way to address them and these are not what lawmakers have said are the highest priorities for state spending at this time of crisis. This Legislature told us that it needed to come into special session to address the state’s huge challenges from hurricanes, the coronavirus and the economic strain being felt by families and businesses struggling to stay financially healthy. Instead, lawmakers apparently came to approve pet projects that are normally the responsibility of local governments and that are unrelated or questionably related to the coronavirus and storms. And they did it intentionally in a manner to avoid public scrutiny. This is not just bad fiscal management of scarce state dollars, it is a regrettable revival of a wily political system based on petty favors. The citizens of Louisiana should be aware that the Legislature is not managing your tax dollars prudently and they have lost sight of the real priorities of state government in a time of crisis.