Hammett: Budget cuts were tough

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 26, 2005

FERRIDAY &8212; After a tough special session, state Rep. Bryant Hammett is happy to be home.

&8220;It was a pretty hectic session,&8221; Hammett said. &8220;I&8217;m used to being gone in the spring and home this time of year.&8221;

The longtime legislator from Concordia Parish chairs the House Ways and Means committee, which meant he was a busy man at the special session, which closed Tuesday.

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The Legislature made about $650 million in cuts to the 2005-06 budget. An additional $400 million in federal funding, which would usually be part of the normal budget, was effectively lost as well since it will go into rebuilding south Louisiana.

&8220;When you cut a billion dollars from the budget, that starts getting into real cuts,&8221; Hammett said.

Hammett said he expects another special session to be called in January once actual revenues from the last months of the year are received and legislators have a clearer picture of the budget.

&8220;In January we&8217;ll see where we are with the budget,&8221; Hammett said. &8220;With the actual revenues we can make better projections about where we are. Then we&8217;ll be back for the regular session in March to make the budget for next year. That&8217;s going to be a massive undertaking.&8221;

The biggest problem facing the state in the immediate future is building housing for the residents of south Louisiana, Hammett said.

&8220;We were trying and will continue to try to find ways to expedite solutions for the housing problem,&8221; Hammett said. &8220;Up here in this part of the state we seem somewhat unaffected or distant from it, but it&8217;s like a war zone down there.&8221;

But south Louisiana won&8217;t be rebuilt in just a few months and the state&8217;s budget problems won&8217;t be fixed just by cutting money from this year&8217;s budget, Hammett said.

&8220;There&8217;s so much we need to do for the folks down there,&8221; Hammett said. &8220;I don&8217;t know that we did enough but we did what we could do right now. Like the governor says, it&8217;s a marathon, not a sprint and we&8217;re just in the first few steps.&8221;

Some local projects were cut or put on an indefinite hold and Hammett said Concordia Parish and other area parishes will feel the bite of budget cuts.

&8220;It&8217;s true local projects weren&8217;t hit as hard as we might have feared,&8221; Hammett said. &8220;But we did cut rural development funding. That means the place where (local governments) could go to get funding if a water system went down or for another small problem won&8217;t be there. That&8217;s a funding source for them.&8221;