Fannin floats new budget plan
Proposes to leave two-percent cushion as safety measure

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Corrrepondend

State Senator Jim Fannin, Republican, of Jonesboro has proposed a common sense approach to eliminate mid-year budget cuts which have become very prevalent in the last 10 years.

The Baton Rouge Advocate reported this month that Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has approved Senator Fannin's proposal, the essential provision of which calls for adopting a budget at two percent less than anticipated revenues.

"I have been in the Legislature for at least the last thirteen years and in the last nine straight years the Revenue Estimating has missed its forecast badly," Senator Fannin explained to the Piney Woods Journal. "I was on that Committee for several years in my role as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee." "I've seen first-hand the difficulty the Committee faces in trying to correctly estimate the revenue that the state will receive.

There are too many moving parts in these estimates of incoming revenue. That is why we cannot get too optimistic in our forecast. Every dollar that is forecast to be coming into the State Treasury is going to be budgeted in some department. They love to spend money in Baton Rouge."

"For the last nine years everyone has been scrambling for money for their departmental operation," Senator Fannin elaborated. "I really believe that some of these state departments are so gun-shy of yearly budget cuts that they can't perform their duties to the best of their abilities."

"For instance, Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain has taken two budget cuts each year for several years. The Ag and Forestry Department has taken such large cuts that it is only half the size that it was when I first came to Baton Rouge. I would honestly think Dr. Strain spends some of his time almost daily thinking about how he is going to handle the next budget cut."

"If we had a Gatlinburg type fire break out in some of our forested communities, we could be seeing real tragedy. The Forestry Department doesn't have enough fire fighters to adequately fight a large forest fire. I think that due to budget cuts, every year that Dr. Strain has been in office, he has more firefighting equipment than he does people to operate the equipment," Senator Fannin noted.

Fannin's proposal as published is really a common sense approach to a dramatic problem. Since the Revenue Estimating Committee has missed its forecast for eight straight, instead of budgeting the amount of money estimated by the Committee, Fannin's proposal would enact a provision that only 98% of the estimated State Revenue can be budget by State government.

"The State government is going to budget and spend every penny they can get their hands on," Senator Fannin, a lifelong Democrat who switched to the Republican Party a couple years ago emphasized. "I'm sure there will be some pain for the departments under my proposal but there will be less pain than having to deal with mid-year budget cuts."

"All the state agencies have told us time and again that if they have to take a budget cut, give it to them at the first of the year which would give them the whole year to deal with the reduction in budget. That makes sense to me."

There are two caveats to Senator Fannin's proposal; one if the Revenue Estimating Committee's actual revenue is higher than the legislature budgets, then a surplus occurs. There are already laws in place to deal with a budget surplus. If the state's Revenue Estimating Committee (REC) forecast is accurate three years in a row, then the legislature would then be allowed to budget 100% of the REC revenue forecast.

This proposal is not a new concept for Fannin. As Chairman of the House Appropriations, Fannin made the same proposal to then Governor Bobby Jindal but his proposal fell on deaf ears. This time, the April regular session will consider the bill which Senator Fannin is filing. Apparently, from public information, Governor John Bel Edwards is supportive of Senator Fannin's proposal.

Senator Fannin is a 1967 graduate of Winnfield High School which has produced over the past 90 years a trove of state and federal level elected officials. Fannin is currently one of three Winnfield High School graduates holding state level offices.

State Senator Gerald Long, President Pro-tempore of the State Senate and State Representative Jack McFarland are the other two. Winn Parish, Huey Long's old home parish is unique in modern day society for a rural parish in that it has four elected state legislators representing the parish in Baton Rouge. The other Legislator is State Senator Jay Luneau of Alexandria.