State Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet speaks to local officials gathered for the Police Jury Association of Louisiana’s convention on Thursday. (Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Friday, February 17, 2017 8:16 AM
State lawmakers should use part of the rainy day fund to fix the midyear budget deficit and avoid cutting dollars intended for local government agencies, the head of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said Thursday.
Jack Montoucet, the department’s secretary, told a group of local officials gathered at the Police Jury Association of Louisiana convention that the state shouldn’t use tax money designated for parishes to lower the deficit. The Legislature is in the middle of a 10-day special session to close a $304 million budget hole in the fiscal year that ends June 30.
“I think that’s really unfair to you because you have leveraged those taxes to collect that money,” he said. “For us, or the state government, to take a piece of that is totally wrong.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposal calls for using $120 million from the rainy day, or budget stabilization, fund, to close the gap. Montoucet said the fund was set up for instances like this.
“It’s not raining; it’s pouring,” he said. “At the local level, you’ve been struggling to make ends meet. When the state starts taking money that’s supposed to be a pass-through, that’s the beginning of the end.”
Edwards chose Montoucet in December to serve as the wildlife and fisheries secretary after Charlie Melancon resigned. Since taking office, Montoucet said he has spent time reorganizing the department and appointing new executive staff.
Attorney General Jeff Landry also spoke during the convention. He said his office spent the past year identifying deficiencies and providing relief for the state budget.
“We ran a fiscal responsibility project in our office,” he said. “And we’ve recognized millions of dollars in savings.”
Landry said his office, along with the Louisiana legislative auditor, were “particularly targeted” to take a larger cut than other departments. The governor’s budget stabilization plan calls for $6 million in cuts to Landry’s office and $8 million in reductions for the auditor’s office.
The plan says the cuts — excess funds in once case and an escrow account in the other — won’t affect the operations of either the auditor’s or Landry’s office.
“What I find ironic is that these are two departments that basically have the ability to ensure that government is not wasting money, and yet he’s cutting those,” Landry said. “You would think that if he’s really concerned about cutting, he would be beefing up those areas and really challenging his cabinet to do the same thing we did.”
Once the regular session begins in April, Landry said he plans to support legislation aimed at cracking down on “sanctuary cities.” During last year’s session, Landry pushed a measure that tried to punish cities he considered sanctuary cities — like New Orleans and Lafayette — by preventing them from getting money for construction projects. It stalled in a Senate committee.
“It is illegal in this country for anyone to harbor or not report information about someone who is in this country illegally,” he said. “When we allow political subdivisions of any state to blatantly violate the law, that sends a subliminal message to your constituents that it’s OK to break the law.”