In the 2016 sessions, House members were ready to blame the state's budget problems on inaccurate fiscal notes from the Legislative Fiscal Office. Now it;s time for the 2017 version of the “Legislative Blame Game”.
“REC is always wrong,” Appropriations chairman Cameron Henry has said.
Representative John Schroder has complained, “Nine years in a row, our forecast is off.”And Representative Rick Edmonds has also pointed at the Revenue Estimating Conference: “We’re always missing this REC number, and all of us have great concern about this.”
This morning, House Appropriations is going to publicly discuss what members want to do about what they see as problems with the Revenue Estimating Conference's forecast.
LSU economist Dr. Jim Richardson is a long-time member of the REC, and he is unperturbed about this morning's committee hearing.
“The REC has been here since 1987, and we merely state how much money – in our judgment – the state will have to spend,” Richardson explains. “That’s not going to be accurate all the time. Projecting numbers is a very inexact science, particularly when you constantly change things, as well.”
Besides last year's changes to sales taxes and two years of changes to some business taxes, one of the big changes is to the representatives who sit on the Appropriations Committee. Of its 25 members, nine are in their first legislative term. Another seven – including the chairman – did not sit on the committee before last year. Richardson says that means a majority still don't have full understanding of how it all works.
“We have term limits: you have new people coming all of the time,” Richardson says. “I’m not sure that they’re just looking for blame. I think it’s more of a learning process.”
The REC is composed of the House Speaker, the Senate President, the Commissioner of Administration, and an economist – Richardson. He says Revenue Estimating Conference's job is not to set policy, nor to determine the size of government.
“Our role is to say 'this is how much money we think we have'. Now, if you want government to be bigger than this, you need to raise taxes. If you want it to be smaller, you can lower taxes.”
And those decisions and tasks belong to the lawmakers themselves.