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Arguments of opponents to capital outlay reform "fluff"

So does it or doesn’t it? While most of the Louisiana Senate agreed SB 808 by state Sen. Rob Marionneaux improves the current capital outlay process for the state and thereby passed, a few senators did not and voted against it. Let’s figure this out.

The bill makes several changes. It allows a rise in the $200 million cap on capital expenditures by the rate of inflation. It requires at least 75 percent to be spent on state projects and on those that aren’t in most cases the local of nongovernmental must come up with 25 percent of the funding on its own. It collapses the categorization system into a five-year plan set by law. It pushes back the change date from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. These aren’t controversial provisions.

Two, however, were. One is that the proposed law retains the present law’s absence of a cap on the total amount of that could be put into the bill. Theoretically, the five-year plan submitted by the governor would include a little over $1 billion. But nothing under either present or the proposed law would prevent the Legislature from putting in more requested amounts than the cap, whether the annual limit now or the proposed five-year plan limit. As a result, presently the Legislature loads up the bill and passes it, leaving in the hands essentially of the governor (because the State Bond Commission gives formal assent to selling the debt per project and the governor’s appointees and allies have a majority on it) to decide what gets funded.

The other is that the proposed law seeks to change how feasibility is determined. The present standard is documentation submitted to the Office of Facility and Planning Control in the Division of Administration in the governor’s office alone suffices. The bill mandates that objective standards are to be developed and employed to assign a ranking to each project which is now not done.

State Sen. Robert Adley was the vocal critic of the lack of a cap on requests. Adley, who had a competing bill that was almost identical to this one and who amended it to reflect the bill prior to SB 808 (it is a substitute) in committee, wanted to put one of 140 percent and have the final list going before the Commission to be approved by legislative committees. Together, these would give much less flexibility to the administration in championing projects.

When his amendment that would have done these things failed by one vote, Adley sulked and declared he wouldn’t vote for the bill almost like his because it had too much “fluff” and wasn’t real reform. Of course, through his pouting Adley neglected to mention something that completely negated his argument: it is solely up to the Legislature to choose whether to fund projects. The Legislature chooses to load up the capital outlay bill and hands the selection power to the governor. Further, Adley’s idea of having committees approve a slate of projects after the governor’s signature violates the idea of separation of powers by first giving the governor the list and then approving whatever he approves again. If the Legislature really wants to control the process, all it must do is send $200 million worth of projects and leave the governor only with the options of vetoing the entire bill or exercising line item vetoes – both which the Legislature could reverse. Adley is trying to legislate willpower into the Legislature through dubious constitutional means.

State Sen. Troy Hebert voiced the other main objection, that the feasibility studies now made formal into the administration’s role will skew the process in its favor. Again notable is what is left out here: the Legislature is under no compulsion to give any weight in its capital outlay decisions to the results of the studies. It can appropriate for any project it wants (subject to the new 25/25 rule and ceiling), as long as it there was a feasibility study submitted for it (constitutionally they must be listed in order of priority but higher priorities aren’t forced into the budget over lower). Besides, the rules promulgated for analyzing the projects are themselves subject to review by committees of each chamber before implementation. Again, it’s just a matter of legislative willpower if it wants to assert its authority in this matter.

Analysis shows that if there’s any fluff in on this issue, it’s in the arguments of Adley and Hebert. SB 808 is a welcome change and deserves to become law.

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