NPR News for Baton Rouge
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Joint Committee Seeks More Flexibility In Louisiana Budget

Wallis Watkins

Legislators will start grappling with a $1 billion budget shortfall next week.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a republican from Slidell, says budgeting becomes even harder when certain accounts automatically get money — they call these dedicated funds. 

"Dedicated funds are things that were developed either by the Legislature in statute or by the voters by constitutional amendment to get funding directly off the top," says Hewitt.

With over 300 dedicated accounts, that limits where cuts can be made, she explains, "so the people then that don’t have dedicated funds are the ones suffering all the cuts, and that’s largely in health care and higher education.”

Last year, the Legislature ordered a budget subcommittee to examine every dedicated fund. On Thursday, they ran a fine tooth comb through funds within the Department of Health that help pay for things like Medicaid fraud detection and nursing home care for the elderly.  Their job is to make a recommendation — should the fund keep getting money, or should it be eliminated.

If a fund is eliminated, it doesn’t mean the money can’t be replaced, but it does mean that the agency will have to come to the Legislature to plead their case.

The idea then, says Hewitt, is to "let everyone justify their budget request and defend their results. The Legislature then gets to participate in the discussion as to what the appropriate level of funding is."

She says that's an opportunity the Legislature doesn’t have with dedicated funds — "they get the money no matter what, no questions asked."

These funds do help pay for services, and if money is nixed, some worry the service will be, too. Hewitt says that isn’t the goal.

"The point is not to eliminate the service," rather, she explains, "our point is to — in many cases — eliminate the fund that gives you special treatment."

And, give lawmakers more flexibility in budgeting.