BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — While their predecessors traditionally spent every surplus dollar available to them, Louisiana’s lawmakers are taking a different approach this term, steering more of a nearly $535 million surplus to savings than the constitution requires.
With a 100-0 vote Thursday, the House gave final passage and sent Gov. John Bel Edwards a state construction budget that doesn’t spend all the surplus money on the table. Instead, the House and Senate propose to sock away about $200 million more than required into savings accounts during the ongoing special session.
“My father always raised me if you make a dollar, you save 50 cents of it,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Stuart Bishop, the Lafayette Republican who handles the construction budget in the House.
Bishop was a driving force behind the Legislature’s decision to keep more surplus dollars unspent, an approach backed by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez, both Republicans.
Nearly $535 million was left over when Louisiana closed the books on the 2018-19 budget year.
The Louisiana Constitution requires $53 million to pay down retirement debt, and another $134 million must flow to the state’s “rainy day” fund. The remaining $347 million could be spent by lawmakers on certain one-time items such as debt payments, construction work or coastal projects, or it could be put into the rainy day account.
Edwards proposed using all of the available $347 million on roadwork, coastal restoration projects and state building repairs that he said would help create jobs as Louisiana recovers from the coronavirus outbreak.
“At the end of the day, we have tremendous needs along our coast for coastal restoration, for levee work. We have transportation needs. I believe that, at the present, the better course of action would be to proceed with the projects in order to have some stimulative impact on the economy,” the Democratic governor said.
But rather than the full amount available, the majority-Republican Legislature used about $140 million of the surplus in the construction budget headed to the governor’s desk for roadwork and other projects.
The remaining $200 million in surplus cash would be split up, under legislation moving in the House and Senate. About $90 million would be sent to the rainy day fund, on top of the $134 million already required to flow into the savings account.
The other dollars would pour into a different set-aside fund. Plans for that money — whether to spend it on construction work or send it to the rainy day fund — would be decided later. Lawmakers say they want to track Louisiana’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus before they determine if they should spend or permanently save those dollars.