“What we constantly are hearing is ‘Our hands are tied because we have dedicated funds in the constitution’,” Baton Rouge Representative Franklin Foil reminded the House Appropriations Committee Monday.
But the question of whether to dedicate or undedicate state funds may ultimately be left to voters, as state lawmakers are moving forward with constitutional amendments proposing to tie up more money, as well as one to unlock funds that are currently off limits.
One of the proposals would give the Inspector General’s office a dedicated funding stream.
“I can’t do this job without incurring the wrath of some folks that are in political circles – it’s just impossible,” Inspector General Stephen Street testified in support of the constitutional amendment to aid his office. “All this does is keep the plug from being pulled on the office, through the back door.”
Another measure headed to the House floor now would dedicate any future gasoline tax hike to road and bridge construction – similar to the currently dedicated Transportation Trust Fund.
“We didn’t do right by that money, and I have serious problems we’ll do right about this,” Winnsboro Representative Steve Pylant said of New Roads Representative Major Thibaut's proposal.
Concerns about what legislators will do with the money could also be a problem with the proposed constitutional amendment to undedicate some funds -- as its author, Ruston Representative Rob Shadoin, admits: “Funds that the people have voted on, thinking that they would be locked up and safe from us.”
“At some point, a majority of voters believed that these were priorities that needed constitutional protection.” Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger asked for clarification, “You’re saying that you believe in some people’s minds that concept has changed, and maybe they should be given another chance to vote on it?”
“This would give us some wiggle room to make even more money available to roads, or to higher education, or to healthcare, or to whatever,” Shadoin replied.
Shadoin's measure would put moneys from the Millenium Trust, the Education Excellence Fund, the TOPS Fund, the Coastal Protection Fund, the Transportation Trust Fund, the Rainy Day Fund – and others – directly into the State General Fund with the tax revenue streams. The bill narrowly advanced, on a 10-9 committee vote. It will take a two-thirds vote of the full House to stay alive.
And just in case voters are as undecided as legislators on the dedicate/undedicate dilemma, a bill to call a constitutional convention is also moving forward.