Louisiana Budget Heavy on Projects, Light on Funding

Sat June 12, 2004 - West Edition

BATON ROUGE, LA (AP) Building a state construction budget isn’t easy. Actually getting money for a project listed in the budget is even harder.

As a Senate committee began work June 1 on this year’s construction budget – a document that currently lists $3.7 billion in projects, but only has money for about $33 million – calls for reform were numerous.

Projects in the bill are put in five priority categories, with the Priority 1 listing projects already underway and Priority 2 listing projects that are most likely to be funded in the coming fiscal year.

The trouble is, even Priority 2 is typically stuffed with more projects than the state sells bonds to finance, meaning whoever is governor must choose the projects that actually get funded. And that, some lawmakers said, can lead to a governor playing favorites to win votes for certain legislation.

“All it is now is a vote-buying scheme,” complained Sen. Max Malone, R-Shreveport.

Gov. Blanco’s administration officials stressed that the governor wants to work with lawmakers to tighten the process.

“I think the administration made a huge mistake by not going forward with reform this year,” said Sen. Paulette Irons, D-New Orleans. New lawmakers who become accustomed to working with the current system this year will be less eager to reform in future years, she said.