Lawmakers looking to trim budgets again in 2017
Published 5:38 am Friday, December 16, 2016
In April, the state legislature will convene for the 2017 legislative session.
This year, the big news was dealing with the state’s budget shortfall. For weeks, lawmakers met in special sessions to slash budgets and raise taxes where they could.
Next year, State Rep. Malinda White said residents should expect more of the same.
The difference is that this is a fiscal year.
Only every other year may the state legislature consider budget and tax issues in regular session — that was why they had to meet in special session last year — and 2017 is one of those years. So while there may not be a need for any special sessions, another projected revenue shortfall means that lawmakers will have to fill a $600-million budget gap.
In the months leading up to April, White is meeting with elected leaders from across the parish to see what savings might be had locally. Specifically, White wants to pare the budget by eliminating duplicated services, thereby saving money but ideally not eliminating services.
White said she took elected leaders to Baton Rouge to meet with an economist from Louisiana State University and he presented the facts of the state economy.
“We’re looking at a mid-year deficit right now,” she said. “There will be more cuts coming across the board. I wanted everybody to understand that.”
She then asked local leaders, including mayors, school board presidents, council presidents and the parish president and representatives from the prison and the community college, to suggest strengths and weaknesses in her House District 75.
“I asked everyone in the group to identify our strengths and our weaknesses in District 75,” she said. “I don’t pretend to know all the answers. That’s why I look to my district to say, ‘What are your needs?’”
After that, White said she asked the group three questions: One, what needs have to be adjusted considering the population shift over the past few decades? Two, are there duplications of services anywhere? Three, could the district do more with less?
White said she realizes the choices are tough, but she hopes elected representatives will be able to make those tough choices.
“Some topics are going to take an extreme amount of courage but I try to remind everyone of what our goal is and to try to leave our emotions out of it,” she said.
Exactly what she’s hearing, White won’t say quite yet. But she said the information she’s collecting will be used to craft local legislation that is easier to pass and that could save the state money and she’s using this time to hammer out agreements between agencies so if cuts are made, nothing comes as a shock.
“I can’t really speak on it because it’s confidential until some of the entities agree they’re OK with it,” she said.
White said she’s hoping to walk a fine line and trim fat while not raising taxes.
“People don’t want to pay more taxes,” she said. “The general population does not want to do this. So let’s look at where we can make cuts.”
However, White said next year won’t bring only bad news.
The state representative recently returned from Washington, D.C., where she met with Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, who pledged to free up federal funds to help drug abuse in rural farming areas.
“The secretary of agriculture has put into place a two-year pot of money for rural areas,” she said.
White said Vilsack has gotten involved, because opioid addiction has hit hard rural, farming communities.
“Our farmers are feeding the nation … so they have dedicated money to facilities out in rural areas that would help people,” she said. “That’s what we’d be going after to help our area.”
White said she didn’t have any concrete details yet on the funding, but she expects it will be well-received.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who can say their family hasn’t been affected by this,” she said.
Finally, White encouraged anyone who wants to know more about the budget process and the ongoing talks in Baton Rouge to get online and visit the capitol’s website.
“I would caution people that if they want to be involved in the process that they have access to everything,” she said. “Everything is online. Every meeting is online. Or you can come to the Capitol and listen.”
To get information about committees, meetings and more, visit online at house.louisiana.gov.