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Beam: State budget getting facelift

Last Modified: Friday, May 03, 2013 5:32 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

The Louisiana state operating budget isn’t something most citizens can wrap their arms around unless one of their favorite causes loses its funding. However, there are budget developments taking place at the state Capitol this week that are worthy of every citizen’s attention.

Our readers should be following events closely since one of their own is at the heart of a potential revolution taking place in the state House of Representatives. Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, is one of the leaders of a coalition of Republicans and Democrats trying to fix a state spending plan that is a mess. Geymann would be the last to claim any credit for the potential history-making events, but his role has been critical.

The problem is actually simple, but politics has stood in the way of its solution. Gov. Bobby Jindal has too long now been using one-time money, funding from events that haven’t happened yet and revenues belonging to other budget units to put a spending plan together. When the money fails to materialize, as has happened for the last five years, state agencies have to deal with devastating mid-year and last-minute budget cuts.

The coalition trying to fix the process has three goals: Shed tax exemptions that aren’t paying dividends, make some spending cuts and reform the budget process. Unfortunately, the tea party and the state Republican Party have rushed to judgment before they know any of the details.

No surprises there. Both organizations are always quick to jump to conclusions with the same argument — “Look out, the Legislature is getting ready to raise taxes!”

Mark Parham, a local tea party activist, was an exception. In an article for louisianaconservative.com, he called Geymann a “passionate conservative I’ve come to know well over the last few years.” Parham said Geymann and his coalition want to fashion a budget that is constitutional, something the tea party should be praising.

Despite the naysayers, the coalition picked up a valuable ally last week when Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley, another local lawmaker, joined the movement. And he had some good advice for the tea party, the GOP (to which he belongs) and other quick-to-judge opponents.

“Let’s sit tight. Let’s give this plan an opportunity for everybody to look at (it) before you make a decision,” Kleckley said. “We have got to find a way to resolve these challenges. We have got to find a way to resolve these budget deficits.”

The Times-Picayune said Gov. Bobby Jindal, who submitted the proposed budget to the Legislature, said he wanted to give representatives “time and space” to develop a balanced budget. Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, told the newspaper the Senate still wants to be heard on the spending plan.

“I’m at least encouraged as compared to last year that they’re trying to find a reasonable, responsible solution,” Alario said. “I’m glad they’re working at it this time.”

Geymann on Friday outlined the budget plan being drafted.

“Our budget deficit reduction plan will be a bipartisan effort that will eliminate the one-time money and contingencies out of the proposed budget by the administration. It will consist off some cuts to spending and some reductions to tax expenditures,” Geymann said.

“Included in the plan will be a series of budget reforms and an expenditure limit on increased government spending that cannot exceed the growth in personal income. In addition, the available non-recurring money will be spent on constitutionally allowed expenditures. This will be a sound constitutional budget that should lessen the likelihood of mid-year and year-end cuts moving forward.”

Geymann told The Advocate, “We’re getting ready to make some tough votes, and we’re all willing to do that.”

The House is supposed to be where money bills originate, but its members have been too willing in the past to hand hard decisions about the budget over to the Senate. The coalition of Republicans and Democrats this year came up with the main ingredient it needed — a supermajority vote, more than the two-thirds (70) necessary to pass taxes and override gubernatorial vetoes.

Whether the coalition can hold remains to be seen. There could be big pressure from the governor’s office that might cost some votes. Lobbyists will also be working feverishly to protect the special interests that pay them.

If the House coalition comes through with a balanced and constitutional budget, and that is a big “if,” Jindal could become a key player. The governor did that in 2008 when there was a movement to repeal the income tax increases in the Stelly Plan. Although quiet on the issue at first, the governor quickly supported the repeal when he realized it was going to happen with or without his support.

Jindal could do a lot for his political image by coming out in support of a logical budget compromise and by urging the state Senate to do the same. Kleckley played the statesman, and was applauded by his House colleagues for his courage.

A special thanks to the coalition that is working hard to come up with a budget compromise. Republican and Democratic legislators and members of the Legislative Black Caucus who are active in the movement have put their state’s best interests above their own personal interests and political ambitions. If this movement succeeds, it will indeed be historic.

    • • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com

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