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Don't Come Easy: Unlocking Stat Deds

Mark Carroll

It’s an oft-repeated theory among state lawmakers: “Our hands are tied because we have dedicated funds,” and “There’s money in stat deds. So isn’t that money just sort of sitting around?”

Slidell Senator Sharon Hewitt is a proponent of that theory, and she ‘s heading a task force looking at eliminating many statutory dedications. But, as she found out during the group’s initial meeting – it don’t come easy.

First up for consideration on a list of 50 dedicated funds was the Barrier Islands Preservation Fund. Created to hold coastal restoration money when a portion of the Tobacco Settlement was sold off, it is currently empty, but is enshrined in the state Constitution.

“The motion is to eliminate the fund,” Senator Hewitt said, then noticed, “Senator Thompson objects.”

“If it doesn’t cost anything, and it may do some good state and federally, you know, you take it off the books, it might not be the proper thing to eliminate it,” Delhi’s Francis Thompson observed.

“So let’s move on to the Natural Resource Restoration Trust Fund,” Hewitt said.

That has a current balance of $214-million, but it is part of the BP Settlement.

“All moneys received by the Office of Oil Spill Coordinator from natural resource damage assessments are deposited into this fund,” a budget staffer explained.

“So part of this is really governed by the court order?” Hewitt asked, with disappointment in her tone.

“Yes, ma’am. The consent decree.”

“Okay,” Hewitt said, with a sigh.

The panel moved on to consider the Louisiana Economic Development Fund, with a current balance of $4.5-million.

“Tell me where the money comes from,” Hewitt asked LED Secretary Don Pierson.

“This LED fund represents about 28-point-8 percent of the revenues that come through the department, funded through 4/10 of one percent of the state sales tax,” he replied.

After questioning Pierson at length on his department’s use of the money, task force members were leaning toward leaving that fund alone, but…

“We have lost our quorum, and so we’re not going to be able to vote,” Hewitt announced. “And we’ll pick up here the next time we meet.”

Tomorrow, renewed interest in something we know works.