Harrison: State budget pared down


State Rep. Joe Harrison wears many hats when serving District 51 in Baton Rouge.

He serves on the appropriations committee, joint legislative committee on the budget and was recently named chairman for the BP claims committee.

Over the past few years, Harrison has spent over 97 extra days in meetings serving on the appropriations committee, he told the Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.

“We have a $24.9 billion budget, but we have done some things that we’re looking for. We’re trying to make the government spend within their means. Stop spending one-time money on reoccurring debt. We’re very thankful to have a gentleman from north Louisiana who’s the head of our appropriations committee that really put his foot down, and we held strong with him so we didn’t put our next generation and the generation thereafter into serious debt. We’re trying to give back to the people what they should have, which is more money in their pocket year after year and lowering their taxes,” Harrison said.

The largest portion of the state’s budget went to education. Locally, Young Memorial will benefit from a $5 million facility added on to its current campus.

“I know the employers that sit in this room are going to be looking for the next generation of employees and how we’re going to be able to cope with their needs and the training necessary that those employees are the type of people that can make you profitable. … Between Young Memorial and Fletcher (Technical College in Houma), I guarantee you we have the best situation in the state of Louisiana for our trades and for our career building because they work with Nicholls State University,” Harrison said.

NSU is building a new $10 million facility for their culinary institute.

“We intend on having an amphitheater we’re looking at possibly going on TV and marketing that they have guest chefs in. We’re being recognized in the top 10 culinary institutes in the United States, and the only one that has a four-year degree. The thing about that is they learn from the front door to the back door,” Harrison said.

Mississippi University for Women also offers four-year degree programs through its Culinary Arts Institute.

Currently the Nicholls culinary institute’s graduates have a 100 percent hiring rate.

“Finally, we are building our rec center at Nicholls State. I think it was announced 12 years ago, if I remember right. I’ve had two of my kids go through there without having the joy of seeing that. But finally it’s there, and you can see the building going up … Nicholls is strong, vibrant and will be one of the strongest colleges in south Louisiana. We’re proving that day in and day out,” Harrison said.

The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students is losing about $18 million a year on students who do not meet the qualifications.

“They don’t go to class, they don’t meet the 12 hour requirement, and that’s sad. Because every single one of you out there pays those tax dollars. They should be mandated to do it. They should have some sort of repercussions to make sure they’re not wasting your tax dollars. So hopefully next year we can put a bill in, if you fail to meet the requirements necessary to keep your TOPS, you’re going to have to repay it. If you stay in school for one more year and pay it on your dollar, then you can come back and regain your TOPS,” Harrison said.

The BP claims committee is monitoring about 600,000 claims from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“The bad thing was the way they set the system up it was first in. Florida had prepared over 100,000 claims when they opened the electronic system, and they hit the system. So we had people who were suffering here and are still suffering to try to pay their bills for their businesses that were damaged by the BP oil situation and are still waiting,” Harrison said.

Also, Harrison voted to override Gov. Jindal’s veto for the tobacco tax.

“It was against the fact that it was a $50 million deficit number that I didn’t think we could afford to pay for. I do not vote for taxes, and I didn’t feel it was a tax, but I did feel it was a fee. I know we may have some smokers in this room and I’ve never smoked, but only the people who smoke were going to pay for it and the money was going to be dedicated for the debt of the health care for the smokers, which is an excessive $400 million a year.

“So it was an issue I differed with the governor on, and I felt I voted my conscience. Both of my parents died as a result of cancer, both of them were smokers. It was a personal issue. My dad was 34 and I was 12 and my dad died in his early 60s. It was something that I’m hopeful whether the vote meant anything. It did to me and I hope it did to many others out there,” Harrison said.

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