Senator Frank Howard told retired Vernon Parish teachers this week that Louisiana can’t keep spending more than it takes in.
“It doesn’t work at my house, it doesn’t work at your house and it won’t work in Baton Rouge,” Howard told the educators.
He and Rep. James Armes, III were guests at the teacher group’s August meeting.
“We have a $28.2 billion budget. We’re not broke, we’re spending a little more than we take in,” Howard said.
“For the last eight years under Bobby Jindal no one realized the problems we had. All the tricks and gimmicks have come to light,” he said.
For two years now, the Legislature and the administration of Jindal’s successor — John Bel Edwards — have struggled to right the financial ship. Three sessions each year have left legislators and bureaucrats alike worn out.
Armes said that despite measures of the past two years, a $1.2 billion budget deficit is likely to greet legislators when they return to work in March. And it’s the Legislature’s job to correct that, he said.
“Gov. Edwards is one of the most honest governors we ever had. He says what he wants, then the Legislature has to respond.” And in the responding is where the sausage is made.
Both legislators will give up their posts in two years, as they reach term limits imposed by the state constitution.
Noting the presence of more and more new, younger people in the Senate and House, they urged men and women considering public service to visit Baton Rouge while the Legislature is in session to get a full glimpse and grasp of the job.
Howard noted the regular session this year had 949 bills and 717 resolutions to consider, as well as 50 proposed constitutional amendments (three of which are on the October primary election ballot). “They have to be heard in committee, then sent to the floor if reported out, then over to the other chamber for the same process. It’s go, go, go,” Howard said.
“With the hours involved, you’re probably working for minimum wage,” he said. Legislators are paid $1,500 a month, plus $150 a day per diem when in session, much of which goes to lodging and meal expense in Baton Rouge.
Both legislators are concerned about the pending deployment at Fort Polk and its potential impact on their districts.
Armes noted that State Education Superintendent John Wyatt has agreed to maintain the parish’s Minimum Foundation Funding at the previous year student level in the face of the parish’s projected enrollment loss as dependents relocate during the troop sojourn.
“Right now, there are 461 fewer students in the total system than this time last year,” he said he had been told. At several thousand dollars MFP and other funding per student, that represents a considerable hit, he noted.