Before being elected U.S. senator, former state Treasurer John Kennedy for several years was insistent that unlocking statutory dedications would help with what ails Louisiana’s budget.
"The Legislature set these funds up by a majority vote," Kennedy told Capitol Access in early 2015. "The Legislature can unset them up by a majority vote, as well."
But the current legislative subcommittee combing through stat deds keeps running into snarls.
The latest came when they tried to untangle the money going into the Transportation Trust Fund, also known as TTF.
"I don’t know whether anyone else on the committee is confused, but I don't see the part that says ‘statutorily dedicated.' It seems to be mixed in here," Metairie Representative Polly Thomas said, as she examined accounting documents regarding TTF. "Please clarify for me what the difference is between the constitutionally dedicated money and the statutorily dedicated money."
"I would say our statutory dedications are the constitutional dedication. I think it’s one and the same," DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson replied.
"Is that separation not possible to make?” she inquired.
Fortunately, DOTD Deputy Undersecretary for Finance, Don Johnson, was able to sort out the strands — sort of.
"Within the constitution, you have the 16 cents and the four cents: that’s constitutional in terms of the Transportation Trust Fund," Johnson said of the primary fund.
It was created by a constitutional amendment approved by state voters in the fall of 1989, along with increasing the state gasoline tax to the current 20 cents per gallon.
"Then you have certain funds that are dedicated to the Transportation Trust Fund, such as truck permit fees, weight enforcement," Johnson continued. “Those things are fees that are deposited into the Transportation Trust Fund. So I believe that may be the statutory ones that you’re speaking of, that are defined as ‘Transportation Trust’ funds.”
All of the money is pooled, and used as security for issuing bonds, the proceeds of which actually pay for highway construction projects. But with a $13-billion backlog of unfunded work, the question remains whether it's sensible to unlock the fines and fees, and shift those proceeds to other state budget purposes.