Sunday, July 21, 2024

Louisiana House committee passes bill to restrict use of disaster aid for recurring state expenses

by BIZ Magazine

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

Legislation to restrict how federal disaster money is used for ongoing expenses in the state budget cleared the House and Government Affairs Committee this week.

Committee members unanimously approved House Resolution 17, sponsored by Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, to establish a new procedure for how the lower chamber appropriates certain federal disaster funds for recurring expenses in the state budget.

HR 17 essentially adds federal disaster funds to current restrictions on appropriations for one-time money for recurring expenses that require two-thirds approval from members of the House of Representatives.

“Now that we’re getting into this uncharted water of using federal dollars for state recurring expenses, I believe we need to know as legislators … if we’re doing that,” Geymann said on Tuesday. “We did it last session, we did not do it this session.”

“There was no indication to us, unless you just dug on your own or if you were on the appropriations committee …, you would not necessarily know,” he said. “Really what I’m doing is just amending the existing rule to include federal dollars, so the clerk and (Legislative Fiscal Office) will now show us both in the report and verbally in some cases whether or not we’re using any federal dollars for state recurring expenses.”

Greymann said it’s important for lawmakers to know to avoid unintentionally growing state obligations using one-time federal funds.

Rep. Beau Beaullieu, R-New Iberia, clarified that the bill does not prohibit lawmakers from utilizing federal funds for ongoing state expenses, but rather requires notification when that happens.

“If in fact … we did use federal dollars to grow a state program beyond where we are now then we would have a threshold to the committee as a whole of a two-thirds vote,” Greymann said. “Now, with that said, if the Revenue Estimating Conference forecasts that we can cover that growth in the next forecast, then again we are back to no threshold, so it’s going to be very rare we’re going to have that threshold.”

Reps. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport, and John Stefanski, R-Crowley questioned how often lawmakers have used the existing rule.

Greymann noted that the current rule for one-time dollars used for recurring expenses has only been used on one occasion, during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. The original rule was also supported broadly by lawmakers in both parties when it was adopted, he said.

“We did it last year, … I didn’t run the numbers, but I believe it would have been exempted because I think the forecast would have covered what … we grew the program, so I think even last year it probably wouldn’t have required the threshold,” Greymann said.

HR 17 states: “No motion the effect of which is to finally pass an appropriation bill that appropriates one-time money or federal disaster funds for ordinary recurring expenses shall be in order unless immediately prior to such a motion a separate motion to authorize the use of one-time money or federal disaster funds for ordinary recurring expenses is adopted by a favorable vote of at least two-thirds of members present and voting.”

HR 17 now heads to the full House for consideration.

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