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Saturday
Feb162013

Legislative Specials Circumvent Budget Process

Sad to say, even as Governor Maggie Hassan has revealed that she plans to balance our current budget by raiding dedicated funds, Democrats are trying to create additional special dedicated funds.

I know of two such cases because they came before the Criminal Justice Committee this week, and the sponsors are not just any Democrats but the Chair and Vice Chair of the Committee.

It's like deju vu all over again, back to 2007 when the newly empowered Democrats, fearful that their pet projects would not see the light of day in the budget, reverted to legislative specials, that is to say special bills to accomplish special ends (some very worthy, some not so worthy).

Six years ago, I was on Environment and Agriculture and was often the only vote in opposition to these special pork projects (even Republicans went along with them).  They passed the House, but since money was involved, they had to go to the Finance Committee, and Gott Sei Dank (thank God), none of them ever saw the light of day.

It's as if Democrats haven't learned a lesson.  Let's hope that this year, policy committees don't take the bait.

These bills before criminal justice MAY be for good projects, but if the projects are so noble, they should be vetted along with everything else as part of the budgetary process.

One of the bills (HB653), from the committee chair if you can believe it, would create a special fund to help prosecute Internet crimes against children.  No one could oppose that, right?  Well, the bill proposes, as a funding mechanism, a $10 court penalty add-on for those convicted of certain crimes.  After we explored the details (that's what they get for putting someone who likes to look at numbers, someone like me, on criminal justice--oh well, I could always be thrown off--it wouldn't be the first time!), we learned the add-ons would generate little more than $100 a year.  That's one hundred, not thousand.  In other words, the penalty would not even generate enough money to administer the fund.  This bill should never see the light of day.

The other (HB661) from the committee vice chair has actually generated emails in support and no small amount of media interest.  It would raid half a million from drug forfeiture money to keep the cold case unit in business.  Aside from the usual problem of the bill working as an end around from the budgetary process, there's a more specific problem with this one--something which the media seems to have ignored.  

This drug forfeiture money, as we learned in Hillsborough County last year when we tried to get the Sherriff to buy a new car with the money, comes with a slew of strings attached.  It can't be used for just anything.  It has to be used to SUPPLEMENT, not supplant, other funding.  Thus, even if we wanted to raid this fund for the cold case unit, we could not.

Six years ago, these bills would have passed the policy committees and the House, only to be killed in Finance or Wqys and Means.  When Republicans were in control two years (thanks to the Bully Without a Pulpit--he did some things right), this type of bill was never filed.

I have no idea how many such bills are out there this years (I only know Criminal Justice), but they all ought to be shot down in the first committee.  We have a budget soas to weigh priorities.  We can't properly weight priorities with a slew of legislative specials, no matter how worthy. 

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