Pork in the Budget: Lawmakers load up the state’s budget with pet projects chosen behind closed doors

Even as they wisely steer money to debt payments, education and infrastructure investments, Louisiana lawmakers also are making the short-sighted, politically driven decision to spend millions of dollars on local pet projects without public vetting or explanation.

The House loaded up a bill to allocate better-than-expected tax collections from the current budget year with about $34 million in earmarks for favored local projects, municipal agencies and outside groups that arguably have no place in a state spending plan. Lawmakers in the chamber also directed $23 million from last year’s surplus into local projects through the construction budget bill.

Local parks, playground equipment, churches, museums, constables’ and sheriffs’ offices, municipal road repairs, fire departments, libraries and festivals are slated to receive dollars, in several instances with no requirements about how the money must be used.

The Public Affairs Research Council believes the earmarks should be eliminated. The approach lacks transparency, squanders the short- term budget largesse and appears aimed at election bids and politics rather than state priorities. Lawmakers instead should focus on the broader needs of the state with targeted outcomes, rather than parochial projects.

In some instances, requests for money to pay for police equipment, fire trucks, community soup kitchens and recreational center improvements may represent true needs in lawmakers’ districts. However, those should be funded with local dollars and only after public discussion about the value of the project.
That’s not to suggest the entire budget is awash in wasteful spending.

The House-backed version of the budget contains increased financing for early childhood education, public colleges, K-12 teacher pay raises and water system improvements. It makes needed deposits into Louisiana’s unemployment trust fund, which was nearly drained during the pandemic, and it pays the second installment of a debt owed to the federal government for storm protection upgrades made in the New Orleans region after Hurricane Katrina.

But Louisiana has many needs and billions of dollars in… Continue Reading Full Story >>>

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