Bill would make budget process more accountable
By Caitie Burkes / Manship News Service
BATON ROUGE — With a looming $1.3 billion budget shortfall in the air for the 2017-18 fiscal year, the House Appropriations Committee on Monday favorably moved 13-3 to the full House a bill that would require the initial allocation of the state operating budget to be reported by expenditure category rather than by general topic.
Its author, state Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, argued House Bill 132 his will “provide a better level of accountability” within state government.
The measure would also require approval from the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget prior to changes of the initial allocation.
Transfers of expenditures between major and minor categories ranging from $20,000 or that cumulatively total $100,000 or more in the fiscal year would require legislative approval.
“Major categories” include salaries, supplies and operating services, Barry Doucet with the State Budget Office, explained.
Despite Edmonds’ call for “transparency, transparency, transparency,” the Democrats on the committee poked holes in the proposed legislation, particularly regarding the workload that would be placed on the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.
“There are three levels of government,” said state Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith, D-Baton Rouge. “It seems to me you’re taking away authority from the executive portion of the government.”
“Unfortunately, you’re right, state Rep. Smith,” Edmonds conceded. “But we’re in dire straits.”
State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, asked Edmonds why the Legislature would be micromanaging expenditures. He said requiring approval of every $20,000 measure was unreasonable.
“The same level of review and scrutiny could take place by just requiring a report of these adjustments,” Leger said.
Leger unsuccessfully offered an amendment to eliminate the word “approve” in the bill’s language and change it to “review,” to which Edmonds and the majority of the committee objected.
“The word ‘approve’ gives us a stronger opportunity for accountability,” Edmonds said.
State Reps. Patricia Haynes Smith, D-Baton Rouge, left, and Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, argue Monday against a bill that would require budgets be reported by expenditure category instead of by a broader topic. (Photo by Sarah Gamard)