Avoyelles legislators unhappy with regular legislative session
“Obstructionist politics” and a philosophy of putting corporate interests above individual taxpayers is how local legislators define the impasse that forced the Legislature into special session to adopt a budget that is supposed to go into effect July 1.
State Rep. Robert Johnson (D-Marksville) said a budget could have been adopted before the regular legislative session ended last Thursday (June 8), but “a small group of legislators, with the backing of the House speaker, prevented it from coming to the floor for a vote.
“Never in my legislative career have I seen something like this session,” Johnson said. “We had worked so hard to work the financial end out and had something that everyone could live with but nobody really liked, and then a small group obstructs the process and does not even let it come up for a vote.”
“I'm disappointed in the Legislature for failing to adopt a budget after being in session for so long,” State Sen. Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte) said. “Petty politics and party line stuff got in the way of making something positive happen for Louisiana.”
LaFleur, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said the special session will “cost the taxpayers over $1 million” and will likely end with the adoption of the same budget the House could have passed last Thursday, which would have removed the need for the special session.
LaFleur said the bitter partisanship reminds him of the “classic ‘Swamp’ politics of Washington, D.C . They will fight to the death to take credit or blame someone. Instead, they should fight to do what is right.”
He said he doesn’t understand why the public “is not more outraged by that type of behavior in our Louisiana Legislature.”
‘STALL, STALL, STALL'
Johnson said the obstructionist attitude didn’t end with the failure to adopt a budget on Thursday.
Instead of rolling up their sleeves and diving into the difficult task of resolving the budget stalemate Thursday evening or even Friday morning, the decision was made to adjourn the start of the special session to Monday (June 12).
“That meant that even if the House passed a budget, it would be Wednesday before the Senate could do anything because it has to lay over for three days,” Johnson said. “Their goal is to stall, stall, stall until the last minute.”
The special session has to end by June 19. The budget year begins July 1.
The major problem that derailed the budget adoption was that one budget proposed saving $250 million to avoid mid-year cuts while the other proposed a $50 million “cushion.”
“If you pull $250 million out of the budget to create a savings account, the cuts would be devastating,” Johnson said. “When you don’t have enough money to meet your needs, why would you allocate even less?”
One of those “devastating” cuts was the elimination of funding for the juvenile detention center in Bunkie, which has been constructed and standing vacant and unstaffed since earlier this year.
LaFleur said attempts to restore funding for the center will be addressed in the special session.
The budget had $7.8 million allocated for the Acadiana Center for Youth (ACY), which would have allowed it to start filling staff positions through transfers and new hires. Johnson said the full $14 million operating budget would be funded in the following budget year.
The “$250 million savings” budget eliminated ACY funding.
ACY NEEDED NOW
Johnson said the new juvenile detention center is needed right now -- and would be at capacity almost as soon as it was staffed.
Next year, offenders up to the age of 19 will be handled in the juvenile system, “which will mean an even larger influx of juvenile offenders. This means the facility will open and we will immediately need a bigger facility.”
“I know what they are trying to do,” Johnson said of the “obstructionists.” “They want to be able to say they adopted a budget that has this large savings and so we don’t need to address additional revenues.”
Johnson said the state must address the fact that 80 percent of corporations do not pay any state taxes.
“This group wants individuals to pay more taxes and for corporations to not pay anything,” he said. “It’s not fair.”
Johnson said another issue the public may not be aware of is that the “obstructionist” budget requires cuts to the Department of Corrections that will require the state to release many inmates “not because they deserve or have earned early release, but just because we can’t afford to keep them."