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|Two budgetary proposals worth pursuing|
Though they won't help the Legislature craft a balanced budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, two budgetary proposals Gov. Bobby Jindal unveiled Monday should be embraced by state lawmakers.
The higher education community should get on board, too.
Speaking to a joint session of the Legislature to mark the beginning of the 2009 regular session, Jindal alluded to legislation that would give a governor the authority to cut up to 10 percent in state funding for statutorily protected budgetary items in tough economic times such the as the one Louisiana is enduring today.
As it stands now, a governor can cut some 5 percent in state funding for programs and/or agencies that are protected by state statute. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee must approve the cuts before they're enacted.
We typically witness the cuts during the middle of a fiscal year, or after the Revenue Estimating Conference tells us the state isn't collecting as much money as the Legislature anticipated when state lawmakers adopted a budget for the fiscal year in question.
Jindal wants to raise the 5 percent figure to 10 percent. The joint budget committee would retain its authority to sign off on the cuts.
Giving a governor the authority to cut some 10 percent of the budget that's protected by law supposedly would spare higher education and health care from absorbing a disproportionate share of mid-year budget cuts in tough economic times. Remember, Jindal ordered some $341 million in mid-year budget cuts back in December. Higher education took it on the chin in light of those mid-year cuts.
Meanwhile, Jindal expressed support as well for legislation that would require state agencies to provide annual reports to the Legislature. The reports supposedly would give state lawmakers the information they need to determine whether the state should continue funding programs and/or services the agencies advocate.
Oddly enough, statutorily protected programs currently do not have to provide proof that the Legislature should fund them year after year. In other words, once statutorily protected programs are created, we're stuck with them whether they're effective or not.
Also, the Jindal-backed proposal would enact a four-year sunset on all statutorily created appropriations, beginning at the end of the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Supposedly, the Jindal administration and the Legislature would use information as of Dec. 31, to determine which statutorily protected programs would continue to receive funding in the new fiscal year, or the one that begins July 1, 2010. The process would be repeated year after year.
While it makes perfect sense to evaluate which state programs should receive state funding based on performance, we should prepare to witness some bureaucrats rise up in opposition to any legislation that would require them to justify their expenditure of taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, there exist some bureaucrats who are not warm to the idea of being held accountable.
It goes without saying that discussing some of the details of legislation that's intended to clear up the budgetary process in state government is about as interesting as watching paint dry. It's important, though, that we engage legislation that's intended to streamline the process a governor and the Legislature utilizes in appropriating state funds. After all, the money belongs to the people. A governor and the Legislature simply are awarded the privilege of spending it.