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Only an Abundance of Caution

Sue Lincoln

The House Ways and Means Committee took testimony on 20 revenue-raising measures Wednesday, but voted on none, returning all of them to the calendar.

Meanwhile, in House Appropriations, committee members continued to cross examine officials about the budget crisis. 

Denham Springs Representative Valerie Hodges wanted to know more about the Board of Regents Support Fund.

“This is my first week on Appropriations, so I’m trying to figure all of this out,” Hodges began. “We’re sitting on $1.3-billion in a trust fund. There’s no way that you could borrow from those funds? There’s no way to do anything with that money? It’s just sitting there?”

“It’s a constitutionally-protected fund; you just can’t use it,” Higher Education Commissioner Joe Rallo replied. “We do use the interest.”

Interest from the fund, approved by voters through a 1986 constitutional amendment, helps support research programs within Louisiana’s higher education institutions.

Media reports that have critiqued the pace of the session thus far did prompt some dialog among House Appropriations members, including an admonition from freshman Rick Edmonds of Baton Rouge.

“We are in a crisis mode,” Edmonds said, with some heat. “Listen, right now? We shouldn’t be makin’ a whole lotta comments. Right now, our plates are full. We don’t need any more criticism.”

“Well then, revenue should not not be a part of the discussion,” Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger observed.

Appropriations chairman Cameron Henry, clearly already weary just halfway through the first week of the special session, then offered his explanation for the pace.

“The fiscal notes that came out last year on the revenue-raisers that we passed clearly were not accurate, because they did not materialize the amount of money that we thought we would bring in,” Henry said. “And I think that’s one of the things that we have decided to do: make sure that we have very accurate numbers going forward. On any revenue-raiser that comes up, that we actually have an accurate number of what it’s going to generate.”