Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Minden, said the budget passed last week was the best one he’d seen in his six years in office.
The Louisiana Legislature passed a $29 billion budget, and even though he’s pleased with how it all came down, he said there is still more work to do.
“It’s the same one basically before the special session, except this one has a little more teeth in the preamble,” he said. “It’s a budget that over half the House and well over half the Senate and the governor has approved. The budget is one of the best budgets since I’ve been down here; there’s no tricks, there’s no one-time money, and there’s no gimmicks in there.”
Cuts made were across the board at about 2 percent, he said, calling the cuts done “surgically,” so that no one state agency carried the brunt of the cuts. Health and hospitals took the largest cut at $35 to $40 million out of a $1 billion budget.
“They were able to make some cuts that’s not going to affect any services,” he said. “I think it addressed TOPS and several different things, including a pay raise for state workers. They gave them a 2 percent pay raise, and they deserved it.”
Higher education wasn’t cut at all, Reynolds said.
The problem is when the single penny tax rolls off in 2018, it will leave a deficit of about $1.4 billion. He was also upset because tax reform was not seriously discussed, and that was the whole purpose of the temporary tax – to give the legislature time to implement tax reforms.
Tax reform will have to include a hard look at incentives, income taxes, sales taxes, corporate taxes and more, he said, and it needed to be addressed in this session.
“I can’t, for the life of me, understand why we didn’t at least start addressing some of this stuff,” he said. “When the sales tax was added, we asked the public to give us 18 months and we’ll fix it. We would take that penny off, and we would have done enough tax reform that we could spread things around, expand the base and get our taxes and our budget stable. And we didn’t do that.”
Reynolds also discussed House Bill 2, the capital outlay bill. He said projects in Webster Parish that are a Priority 1 will likely get funded.
Roads and bridges
However, the $12 billion backlog on roads and bridges projects will still have to wait. He said the Highway 531 bridge over Interstate 20 will be done, but it could be three or four years before construction of the new bridge begins.
Reynolds is pushing to get the bridge deemed an emergency because the north side of it is beginning to cave in.
“I’m going to work with the governor and see if we can’t get that bridge a little higher on the list,” he said.
A couple of bills will be on the October ballot regarding the possibility of a gas tax.
“If the passage of a gas tax is even possible, it would be in the year 2020, and by 2024, the traffic on I-20 is supposed to triple,” he said. “We passed a bill or two that’s a constitutional amendment that said in case there is ever a gas tax passed, that the money has to go to roads, bridges and ports. It can’t go for anything else but construction projects.”
Even with these obstacles, Reynolds reiterated he was pleased with the budget passed.
“Overall, I think we came up with a resolution everyone could live with,” he said.