House committee members want state contracts downsized

House committee members want state contracts downsized

(WVUE) - It is week two of the 25-day special session at the State Capitol, and Gov. John Bel Edwards and state lawmakers are feeling pressure.

There is still no solution to the billion-dollar deficit for the fiscal year that runs through June 30, and that makes expensive state contracts more appealing to state lawmakers looking to pick up more cash for the state's bank account.

"We've got 19,000 consulting contracts. No reasonable person in the Milky Way believes we need 19,000 consultants. We just don't - we can't afford all of them," State Treasurer John Kennedy said recently in an interview with FOX 8 News.

He is vocal about the amount of money the state shells out for consulting and professional services contracts. And with the governor proposing a massive tax package to help close the budget gap, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee spent hours discussing the need to cut state contracts.

A resolution was approved by the committee that calls for the administration to identify contracts to cut. An amendment was added which requires the governor's staff to give the joint legislative Budget Committee a report on the contracts that have been reviewed by March 1, and the total number of contracts scrutinized for cuts by March 14.

"We've heard as you travel the state, as you look in the press, contracts, contracts, contracts. This is the way to clean it up, right here," said Rep. Lance Harris.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, who spent years in the Legislature, said the administration has already begun looking for ways to cut contracts signed during Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal's terms in office.  An executive order signed by the governor on Feb. 14 got the ball rolling on reviewing contracts for cuts.

He said where contracts can be eliminated, it will be done.

"This is a lot of political talk and speechifying and these are Governor Jindal's contracts and this governor has come in and said we're going to finally do something about contracts," Dardenne said.

One lawmaker said that the top 50 state contracts cost more than $13 billion. Still, Dardenne warned that they cannot be cut because they help the state provide vital service like health services.

"Lest you want to expand the state's employee base many-fold, because these are taking care of the prescription drug program for everybody on group benefits for the state, and it's handling Medicaid processing," he said.

He said in the scheme of things, contracts are not the cure-all for the state's budget woes.

"There are going to be some that we're going to look at and say, yeah, we're not going to do that anymore. But it's not going to save the day in terms of the fiscal crisis that we're in right now," Dardenne said.

The special session must end by March 9, and Dardenne doubts they will have a handle on all the thousands of contracts by then.

The Appropriations Committee also waved through a bill to the full House that would require state contractors to register with the legislative auditor for better transparency and accountability.

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