Senate president talks budget with Chamber

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 6, 2011

By David Vitrano


DESTREHAN – State Sen. Joel Chaisson addressed members of the River Region Chamber of Commerce at Ormond Plantation last week as part of their annual general membership meeting and legislative wrap-up.

Chaisson, who has delivered a summary of the session to the Chamber for several years, concentrated mostly on the state’s $25 billion budget. He described the 2011-12 fiscal year as a “budget cliff year,” meaning the state had many obstacles to overcome, including the loss of federal stimulus dollars and reduced revenue, in producing a balanced budget.

“The goal was to avoid falling off of the proverbial ‘budget cliff’ and deal with our budget challenges without doing irreparable harm to key health care and education services,” he said. “With the governor opposing tax increases of any kind or even the temporary suspension of any tax exemptions, we had to find a way to do what needed to be done with only the dollars on hand.”

He said a balanced budget was created through the cooperation of the governor, the House and the Senate, with no particular branch trying to railroad its agenda through.

“To the extent possible, the plan protects higher education and healthcare services, limits the use of fund balances for ongoing expenses and removes any reliance on so-called contingency funding,” he said, adding, “That being said, there are definitely repercussions that will be felt as a result of the cuts that were made and the level of funding for higher education and health care.”

Chaisson said some of the state’s projected $1.6 billion shortfall was made up for by eliminating more than 3,500 positions in state government, and the state now has the fewest employees since Buddy Roemer was governor. Cuts were also made to the operating budgets of some of the state’s smaller museums and the state library, which is now closed every Friday. The biggest impacts, he said, deal with education funding.

“Through last fiscal year, higher education institutions experienced a 36 percent reduction in state funding since 2008,” he said. “More of the burden of financing higher education is falling on the shoulders of students and their families —something the Legislature must consider down the road since quality, affordable education and workforce training programs are vital to our state’s future and the future of our economy.”

Chaisson also touted three of the five constitutional amendments that will be up for vote in the fall. The first dedicates money received from the state’s settlement of a lawsuit against tobacco companies to the TOPS program and retains a 4-cent cigarette tax that generated revenue for health care programs. The second amendment designates a percentage of one-time revenues to be used to help pay off the portion of the unfunded accrued liability of the state employee and teachers’ retirement systems. The last amendment, co-authored by Chaisson, deals with the time period given to pay back monies borrowed from the state’s rainy day fund.

This was Chaisson’s last time addressing the Chamber as Senate president. His term ends in January, and he is restricted by term limits from running again. Chaisson said he plans to run for district attorney in March.

The River Region Chamber of Commerce looks to have a busy rest of the year, with its annual golf tournament set to take place Friday at Cypress Lakes Country Club, the Mint Julep Networking Event set for Sept. 22 at Oak Alley Plantation and a Washington fly-in scheduled for Oct. 11-13. Additionally, the Chamber will continue to hold Lunch ‘n’ Learn sessions and Chamber Perks events throughout the rest of the year.

For more information on the Chamber and its activities, visit www. or call 985-359-9777.