BATON ROUGE — The Senate Finance Committee advanced a resolution Wednesday that would increase the state’s spending cap with a two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature.
Senate Resolution 3, brought by Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, would increase the cap for both the current and the next fiscal years to allow the state to spend more money from giant budget surpluses. Cortez argued the state is in a rare position to spend cash on one-time projects and debt.
The action on Cortez’ bill came after two groups of conservatives in the House voiced strong opposition this week to raising the spending cap, adding to the tensions between Republicans in the two chambers. How the fight plays out—and how much of the $1.8 billion in surplus funds are spent--may be the most important issue to watch in the legislative session, which runs through early June.
Cortez said raising the spending cap is necessary to supplement funding from the federal government on one-time projects on things like infrastructure and transportation. He said Congress could take back the American Rescue Plan money if it is not used by 2026.
According to Cortez, there is at least $13 billion backlogged in transportation and about $1.8 billion in deferred maintenance on campuses across the state.
“Don’t put money in a savings account while you have maintenance issues in your buildings,” he said.
Former Senate President Randy Ewing encouraged the committee members to take this opportunity amid large surpluses to raise the expenditure limit and use it to address those needs. Ewing helped pass the amendment in 1990 that allows for a two-thirds vote to raise the expenditure limit.
“You give yourself a whole lot more flexibility to do a lot of good things that are needed,” Ewing said.
Division of Administration Director Mark Moses also expressed support for Cortez’s proposal. He said projects across the state will stall without additional funding needed from increased prices and inflation.
Still, others are hesitant about raising the cap. Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Jefferson, expressed concerns about spending more money, pointing out the state’s budget is largely infused with federal dollars and a temporary 0.45 percent sales tax is set to expire in two years, which could result in up to $900 million in lost revenue.
The proposal is likely to face serious obstacles to getting the required two-thirds vote. The Louisiana Conservative Caucus, one of the groups in the House opposing any increase in the spending cap, has 42 members.