On the first real business day of the new session Tuesday, the House Appropriations jumped right in with heavy lifting, as they began combing through the governor’s 329-page budget proposal. Lawmakers didn’t hesitate to ask for detailed explanations about the line items.
For example, Baton Rouge Representative Pat Smith questioned Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols about funding for the school voucher program.
“Where does the 46-million dollars come from, to fund the scholarship program?” Smith asked.
“Umm, that actually—I’m sorry—is state general fund-supported,” Nichols finally answered, after turning to look around for staffers.
“No particular place, just coming out of the state general fund?” Smith pressed for more detail. “So it’s possible that something else is lacking? You’re pulling it from one place to another?”
Other members of the governor’s staff also had trouble answering specific questions, saying they didn’t know, or would have to get back to the committee with the information requested. Another question from Representative Smith seemed to totally stump Deanne Bingham, director of the governor’s Program on Abstinence.
“Are you…are you asking me for my budget?” Bingham responded. “I can get that list to you.”
That prompted Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, a former schoolteacher, to scold the governor’s staffers for not doing their homework.
“We are a budget committee. We will be asking you about your financial expenditures,” Fannin warned. “When you come to the table, I would ask that you be prepared to answer those questions.”
Across the hall in the House Transportation Committee, it was lighter fare, as bills creating 12 new “prestige” license plates advanced to the House floor. They include plates for Master Gardeners, Down Syndrome Awareness, and the Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association. Once these measures win full legislative approval, the new plates will join the 165 other types of specialty plates available through the Office of Motor Vehicles.