‘Political games’ in Baton Rouge threaten juvenile center in Bunkie

Juvenile correctional facility will open, but full-capacity would be delayed

“Political games” in Baton Rouge could harm many state programs, but it will not delay the opening of the Acadiana Center for Youth, state Rep. Robert Johnson said.

The ACY juvenile correctional facility in Bunkie will be able to hire enough employees and open enough dorms to accept its first group of 36 residents in March, Johnson said. However, it will not be able to open at full capacity unless $10.8 million of revenue is recognized by the state Revenue Estimating Conference.

A lone dissenting vote threw what should have been a routine matter into turmoil this past Tuesday (Nov. 27) when House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry -- filling in for the absent House Speaker Taylor Barras -- refused to recognize over $40 million of revenue the state has already collected.

“This is money the state has collected that is currently sitting there waiting to be allocated under the budget that was adopted this past session,” Johnson said. “This is not a ‘hope and a prayer’ thing. The money is already there to be used.”

Johnson said the REC will meet again this week, but no date had been set as of press time for this edition.

Gov. John Bel Edwards showed once again that he is not afraid to come out of the chute shooting when his political foes cross him.

Noting that two state economists reported that revenues are ahead of projections, Edwards said one member of the REC ignored that good news and instead “chose to politicize this process.

“In an unprecedented political ploy, Chairman Henry objected to adopting the forecasts proposed by the economists,” Edwards said. “Speaker Taylor Barras requested that the REC meeting be held on this date to accommodate his schedule, but instead decided to send Chairman Henry to do his work for him.”

‘BELOW THE LINE’

Johnson said items the Legislature approved for funding that were “below the line” in the last session would be able to be funded if the REC simply recognizes the revenues.

Recognition of the revenues would allow Edwards to include those expenditures in his proposed budget to the Legislature. If the additional revenues are not recognized, it is as if they do not exist.

In addition to the $10.8 million that would be allocated to ACY, the funds held hostage by the lone “No” vote include $16.29 million for the Department of Corrections, $570,151 for the Office of Conservation, $500,000 for the Louisiana Economic Development FastStart Program, $74,218 for the Office of Coastal Management, $10.5 million for state sheriffs, $2 million for state Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, $610,206 for the Secretary of State’s Office, $869,649 for the Attorney General’s Office and $600,000 for the Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

“Once again, the Speaker is bending to the will of a small band of obstructionists in the House who are determined to keep the status quo in our state,” Edwards said. “With near universal agreement that we should provide Louisiana teachers with a pay raise, the actions by Speaker Barras and Chairman Henry place the ability to fund that plan in jeopardy.”

Edwards said checks and balances such as the REC were put in place “to protect our budgeting process, which is why our state has run a surplus for the last two years.

TIRED OF ‘GAMES’

  “We’ve seen these games time and again,” he continued, “and the people of Louisiana are tired of them.”

The REC requires a unanimous vote of the participating members to improve the state’s revenue forecast based on recommendations from expert economists. Both economists agreed the state’s economic outlook has led to additional revenue being collected in excess of projections.

Johnson said the state is very conservative in estimating revenue.

“If oil is selling at $100 a barrel, we will estimate revenue as if it were selling at $33 per barrel,” he said. “That way, if the price of oil plummets, we have a built-in cushion.”

Johnson said there is a “small group of legislators, the Jindal Republican crew, that has been playing this same game for the past seven special sessions. They are trying to keep government from making progress.

“What they are doing will stop a much-needed teacher pay raise and hurt our hospitals, universities, sheriff’s and other departments and programs.”

Johnson said it “isn’t all Republicans. Senate President John Alario, a Republican, accused Henry of playing ‘political games.’

If the Barras-Henry roadblock is swept aside and the additional revenues are recognized for budget purposes, the new expenditures would still have to be approved by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee before they could be allocated and spent.

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