Lawmakers advance bill to cut state contracts
By Michelle Millhollon | The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
A north Louisiana legislator accused the Jindal administration Monday of dispensing hogwash for claiming a 10 percent reduction in state contracts would impact coastal protection, health care and other vital expenses.
“A lot of these contracts are just nonsense and a complete waste of money,” state Rep. Jim Morris said during debate on House Bill 73 in a House Appropriations Committee meeting.
At issue are the thousands of contracts inked by state government each year. Among those brought to the committee’s attention: $10,000 for state sponsorship of chimpanzee discovery days, $57,100 to teach the Hispanic community about seat belt safety and $94,000 to help students with organized play.
HB73 is state Rep. Dee Richard’s third attempt to reduce the amount of state professional, personal and consulting service contracts by 10 percent. Similar bids in 2011 and 2012 failed to clear the Legislature.
Richard, No Party-Thibodaux, saw his bill advanced from the House Appropriations Committee Monday after a few tweaks. The next stop is the House floor. In the past, the proposal has died in the state Senate.
The State Secretary of State’s Office secured an exemption from the legislation because of elections and other contracts.
State Treasurer John Kennedy, who helped Richard handle the bill, said the legislation would not tell managers which contracts to eliminate. He said the bill just would suggest they eliminate some.
“In tight budget times, we could spend the money on other things,” he said.
Steven Procopio, chief of staff for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Division of Administration, said cutting all $50,000 contracts only would reduce overall contracts by 1 percent. He said large scale contracts impacting coastal protection, health care providers and pharmaceutical services also would need to be cut in order to hit the 10 percent target.
“You can’t get there by cutting the small guys,” he said.
Morris, R-Oil City, accused Procopio of downplaying what he characterized as a mushroom in contracts.
“We’re getting some hogwash here,” he said.
Morris said contracts have exploded so much that trying to fund them is like trying to put a square in a round hole.
Procopio countered that he was not advocating against scrutinizing contracts.
“The question is does this bill solve that problem,” he said.
Kennedy interjected that his staff could help if the Jindal administration is busy.
“We’ll get it done,” he said.
State Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, said the problem is that legislators do not see every contract that goes before the Jindal administration. She asked if legislators could see the contracts.
Procopio said all contracts already are online.
Kennedy said the online database is so complicated that users need a road map and the skills of a Daniel Boone to navigate it.
In the end, the committee opted to go along with Champagne’s suggestion that the appropriations committee routinely receive a list of state contracts. State government also would have to comply with the bill’s original intent of reducing state contracts by 10 percent.