BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Lawmakers said Monday that Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget proposal for Louisiana's state prisons improperly uses hurricane recovery money for retirement payments and appears to shortchange some funding needs.
Members of the House Appropriations Committee raised their concerns as they continued an agency-by-agency review of the Republican governor's spending recommendations for the 2014-15 fiscal year that begins July 1.
"I have a lot of problems, because I think your budget has tremendous flaws," Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, told Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc.
Generating the loudest complaints about the $525 million budget proposed for the Department of Corrections was Jindal's plan to use $6 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help pay for retirement benefits.
Jindal administration officials said the money was a reimbursement to the state for repairs to its prisons after wind damage from Hurricane Gustav. They said the repairs have been made and paid for, so the FEMA repayment money isn't needed for hurricane recovery.
Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Erath, suggested the dollars should be used for other hurricane recovery items, and several lawmakers complained that the money was a one-time source of revenue that would be used to pay for ongoing retirement expenses.
They said that creates a shortfall in the corrections department budget when the FEMA reimbursement dollars aren't available a year later.
"It may not be good practice for the future," said Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, a frequent critic of such maneuvers.
In other areas, Fannin questioned why Jindal's budget proposal doesn't set aside any money for prison supplies and repairs. This year's budget also doesn't include such funding.
"I look at all the facilities we're operating, and I'm wondering how you can go two years in a row without any acquisitions. Don't you have a gate that don't work or a bucket of paint that you need to buy?" Fannin asked.
LeBlanc said he moves money from elsewhere in his budget to pay those types of costs, but Fannin said that's not the proper way to handle those items.
Fannin also questioned whether the proposal contains too little funding to pay sheriffs for housing state inmates in local jails. He noted the state is short $10 million this year of what is needed to cover those costs, and he said that's a regular shortfall that pops up.
"We're underappropriating it every year," he said.