The Louisiana Food Bank Association is asking lawmakers for $5 million dollars in state funds to assist with the purchase of food from farmers, fishermen, and vendors. Food banks have hit a wall with many grocers finding more efficient ways to keep food fresher longer and giving away less of their inventory.
The $5 million dollars would buy more than 2 million pounds of food. Historically the association has received state funding, but didn’t receive any funding for food last year.
House committees took up two big ticket items Monday: budget reform and tobacco taxes. Bills that would makeover the process of building the state’s budget passed favorably in the House Appropriations committee. A packed Ways and Means committee did not vote on tobacco taxes; representatives deferred their bills.
State lawmakers are being more sensitive to how they spend money.
A bill containing minor change to the state’s Enterprise Zone program failed to pass in the House Thursday.
The Enterprise Zone is an incentive program that works to encourage businesses to expand in rural parts of the state. The bill would have changed the definition of a “multifamily residential housing”, making bigger apartment complexes eligible for a tax credit.
Representative Katrina Jackson leads the caucus. She says under her plan, the funds from raising the tobacco tax would be dedicated. “It starts making the areas of higher education systems whole, and the area of health care as well,” Jackson said.
Governor Jindal’s opening address to the legislature didn’t mention healthcare, higher education, or the budget in general. Instead, he flabbergasted lawmakers and media with a thirteen-minute long speech ditching his plan to raise sales tax revenue to replace the income tax. But he didn’t abandon the initiative altogether.
“I know that several of you have already filed bills to phase-out the income tax," Jindal said. "What I’m here to tell you is this: even as we park our bill, I call on you. Let’s work together. Let’s pass a bill this session to get rid of the income tax once and for all in the state of Louisiana.”
While departments across the state are seeing steep cuts, the Department of Education has been getting more than it needs, according to accusations Wednesday in a House Appropriations Committee meeting.
Committee chairman Jim Fannin noted: year after year, the department has been allocated more money than it spent. In fiscal year 2012 the department's actual expenditures were $400 million dollars less than its $5.6 billion dollar operating budget.
The House Appropriations Committee is questioning the number and necessity of contracts that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education maintains with private entities.
At a committee meeting Tuesday Chairman Jim Fannin told BESE President Chas Roemer that contracts should be reviewed more often, so that the board can ensure the funds are being spent wisely. BESE cut costs last year by reducing the number of meetings from ten to seven a year, which gave them less time to review contracts.
After the blow back from the abbreviated debate on education reform in 2012, Representative Joel Robideaux said discussions on the Governor's initiatives got underway sooner this year. “Some may say that wasn’t a good way to go," Robideaux told the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday, "because we’ve taken two months of opposition, but from a legislative standpoint, I think it’s great because we’ve had two months of debate we wouldn’t have otherwise been afforded.”