By MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to spend two-thirds of a $123 million Louisiana surplus on road and bridge work, college building repairs and local construction projects, a lengthy list of small-dollar items that would spread the money across the state.
The Democratic governor released his proposal for divvying up the cash Wednesday. Lawmakers will determine how to use the dollars left over from the last budget year in their current legislative session.
Under Louisiana’s constitution, $12 million of the surplus must pay down retirement debt and nearly $31 million must be carved off the top for the state’s “rainy day” fund. That leaves about $80 million left for spending. The dollars are restricted to one-time expenses.
“We are making a substantial investment in our state,” Edwards said.
The plan includes 23 transportation projects , 199 small-dollar construction projects, community water projects, local government aid and a $10 million block of money for college campus maintenance.
“Every corner of the state will receive funding for these projects,” the governor said.
Lawmakers might have other ideas for the spending, however. Some House Republican leaders, including Speaker Taylor Barras, have suggested more of the surplus should go to the rainy day fund to repay dollars taking from the account last year to pay state government expenses.
The surplus is from the 2016-17 financial year that ended June 30, when tax collections exceeded revenue projections. The dollars can’t be used to help close a budget gap in the upcoming year that begins July 1, because of constitutional restrictions on surplus money.
Edwards also outlined his priorities for spending about $200 million in unspent cash from the current budget year.
The governor proposes using the money to pay down debts owed to FEMA for Louisiana’s share of disaster recovery expenses and to managed-care companies in the Medicaid program. He also seeks upgrades to the state’s financial management computer system and spending on legal judgments against the state.
House GOP leaders have different ideas for some of that money, however, including proposals that would help lessen next year’s budget shortfall. Edwards objects to such maneuvers as a short-term fix that creates budget problems in later years.