Riser wants to move legislative session up

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 30, 2008

VIDALIA — If things go the way that District 32 State Sen. Neil Riser wants them to, the state legislature will start meeting much earlier in the year.

The first fiscal session of the legislature starts in April, but Riser plans to pre-file legislation that will move the start of the session to the last Monday in January.

An earlier start would help state agencies plan better by having the budget passed before the fiscal year begins, Riser said.

Email newsletter signup

“Everyone who has anything in the budget is at a disadvantage because they don’t know what their budget will be until right before the end of the fiscal year,” he said.

But even before the legislature begins to meet this year, Riser said he knows that they will have to make some serious spending cuts to bring the state’s $350 million deficit in line with the balanced budget amendment.

Much of the shortfall can be explained by falling oil revenue.

The budget was set to receive oil royalties with oil prices at $84 a barrel, and prices are currently at approximately $39 a barrel.

That means that projects that were given a go-ahead earlier might now have to be shelved until funds are available.

Having to cut back spending because of the current economic situation is a reality the people of the state have already felt, Riser said.

“It is now a matter of the state having to cut back like everyone else,” he said.

“We have to protect education and healthcare, which are already a large portion of the budget.”

Some projects will not get axed, however, because they are funded by a surplus, which by Louisiana law cannot be used to pay off a budget deficit.

“It’s a good safeguard to have in place because you can’t have a legislative body overspending knowing that there will be a surplus there,” Riser said.

Despite this year’s overabundance of funds that were dedicated as surplus, Riser said he doesn’t anticipate that there will be such an overflow of otherwise undedicated money next year because of the elimination of the so-called Stelly income tax and the low oil prices.

Projects put on hold may get a kick-start from the federal level, however.

“The new presidential administration is talking about infrastructure money, so there could be additional monies that could come into the state — we just don’t know yet,” Riser said.

He also said that he does not believe the legislature will have an early special session this year to address the spending concerns, a possibility that has been rumored around the state in recent weeks.

“I spoke with the governor last week and we had the discussion that we might have a special session, but (the administration) leaned to the side that we weren’t going to have one,” Riser said.

District 21 Rep. Andy Anders, D-Clayton, said that working within the confines of a tightened budget will be hard, but he would like to see some debts paid down.

“We are going to have to be working with the deficit so high and the price of oil so low, though,” he said.

As chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and the representative of the largest agriculture district in the state, Anders said the Department of Agriculture and Forestry is in desperate need of debt relief.

“The current commissioner inherited such a debt from the old commissioner,” Anders said. “We are going to try to pay off some of his debt so he can function in some form.”

Anders also serves on the insurance committee, and he said he wants to work to help people with their insurance deductibles for storm damage.

“For a lot of people in Louisiana, on your homeowner’s policy it says if it is a named storm or a named hurricane, the deductible has to be as high as 5 percent of the value of the house, but a lot of that was in the fine print on the policies,” Anders said. “Most houses now it doesn’t take much for it to be a $200,000 home depending on where it is.”

For some, that would mean that, even if they sustained as much as $3,000 in storm damage to their home, the insurance deductible on a $100,000 house would not cover it, Anders said.

The representative also plans a trip to meet with the chairs of other states’ agriculture committees later this year for networking purposes.

“The only way you can get help is to know who is in Idaho and who is in Illinois,” Anders said.

While the insurance and agriculture plans figure in the front of his mind, Anders said he might try to craft other legislation depending on where the state finds itself in a few months.

“It is so far out right now everything might change,” he said.

If a special session is not called, the legislature will fist convene April 27.