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Local legislators say special session unlikely

By Kyle Barnett -   Oct 04, 2012

Local legislators are saying it is unlikely that Thibodeaux Rep. Jerome 'Dee' Richard’s recent call for a special legislative session will be heeded.

The request comes as Gov. Bobby Jindal makes massive budgets cuts in healthcare and corrections in order to balance the state budget, which was cut $650 million by the federal government following the end of this year’s legislative session on June 4. Critics say the cuts should have more input from state legislators.

"From my understanding people on the appropriations committee have not been given all the information they’ve asked for," Rep. Greg Miller said. "And when we’ve made suggestions as to what to cut, the administration would come and say that would be too devastating and they won’t provide us with the actual numbers we’ve asked for."

Miller said the cuts deserve more scrutiny.

"I would of liked to have seen us get more information on how this legislature could be more involved in the process," Miller said. "If we are going to cut the size of state government I would like it to be done in a more orderly fashion and have more input from the legislature who represent the people of Louisiana."

Sen. Gary Smith said despite the financial difficulties faced by the state, the call for a special session is not popular amongst the state’s elected leaders.

"The governor’s not on board with calling it. He’s the one who is in charge of the budget now that we are out of the session," Smith said. "The leadership of the legislature as I understand it, meaning the speaker of the house and the senate president, are not in favor of calling it."

However, Smith said he will keep the possibility in mind after he meets with fellow legislators for a budget meeting in the next few weeks. If a special session were called he said he would like to address a few issues.

"Of course we need enough funding for our healthcare system, that is something that is taking it on the head right now, and we need funding for our universities," Smith said. "We would want to make sure that we work on the levee protections, especially after Isaac coming through."

Smith also said without the support of the administrative branch the efforts by a special session would be null and actually cost taxpayers more.

"If you have the support of the legislature but not the governor he can still veto it," Smith said. "You don’t want to spend money going in trying to save money."

Both Smith and Miller visited the St. Charles Parish Council last month to provide an overview of the 2012 legislative session.

Smith, the Senator for District 18, said this year’s session was one of the toughest he has faced in his 10 years representing St. Charles Parish.

Higher education and health care suffered the most from budget cuts. Higher education is set to receive $993.6 million this year, which is down from $1.6 billion four years ago. In addition, the state health care budget totaled about $8.27 billion, which is down $630 million from the previous year.

On top of cuts in the state’s health care expenditures, the federal government also cut $650 million from Hurricane Katrina-related funds, which are now being cut out of state services by Jindal and are at the center of the call for a special session.

Despite significant budget cuts, Smith said more funding was set aside to help with the West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee.

"We put an additional $125,000 on top of the money that was already in there for the West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee bringing it up to $4.5 million with $1.5 million of that being available this year," Smith said.

The West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee was also included as part of an unfunded multi-year plan aimed at strengthening Louisiana’s coast.

"I’m proud to say that in that plan we were able to include the West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee and that was something that was originally left out of it," Smith said. "It’s a 50-year plan that we set out to spend $50 billion on 119 projects. Although we didn’t get money in there, and there’s not specific money allocated for those projects nor is there specific money allocated for the West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee, keeping it in that plan was an essential part of moving forward."

Miller said the levee project is a priority not only for him, but all of the St. Charles Parish delegates.

"It doesn’t matter if you have the greatest community in the world–the greatest jobs, the greatest schools–if it is subject to flooding and people do not have confidence in our flood protection," Miller said.

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