State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, December 20, 2012 7:41 PM
A group of legislators, determined to change the way Louisiana’s budget process operates, point toward last week’s mid-year cuts as proof the state is not fiscally sound.
Last summer, budget reformers sounded the alarm that cuts were going to be needed this month.
State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, one of the primary voices with the Budget Reform Coalition, told a group of residents Thursday that something needs to be done to ensure that cuts do not continue to affect state higher education and health care agencies.
This year, 35 House representatives known as the “fiscal hawks” coalition have traveled around the state educating the public about the need for reforms along with hearing about possible solutions. Legislation aimed at changing the foundation of the state’s budget process is being drafted and will be filed by the coalition for the 2013 Louisiana Legislative Session.
“Hopefully we will have a package that will help us do a better job at the Legislature,” Geymann told Kiwanis Club of Calcasieu.
What baffles Geymann is that the state is one of eight outpacing the national average in economic growth but it still had to enact $165.5 million in mid-year cuts with the state’s Department of Children and Family Services and Department of Health and Hospitals taking the biggest brunt. The Louisiana Revenue Estimating Conference projected a $129 million drop in revenue while spending increased.
Geymann says three aspects of the state’s budgetary process need to be changed.
“First, there needs to be more transparency with the process. The budget is passed on the last day of the session. We need to change the timing and way we do that. All of us need to know what’s in the budget,” he said.
Geymann said “prioritization” needs to be emphasized in the budget process. Higher education and health care should be first in line for dedicated funds, he said.
“We don’t seem to take care of those areas. Right now, the language in some bills is being worked on to put those areas on the top of the priority list,” he said.
Another area the “fiscal hawks” want to address is adhering to the state Constitution in budget matters.
“Let’s follow the law. I believe the constitution says we can’t spend more money than we have available. It states we can’t exceed revenue,” he said.
Geymann notes that the state spends “one time” money on recurring expenses, which only makes the ßbudget problem harder to manage. That action leads to additional cuts to higher education and health care, he said.
“Gov. Jindal campaigned on the promise to quit that type of spending. Yet, we do the same thing we did when he got into office,” Geymann said.
Additional legislation isn’t fail-safe, but is needed to make decisions easier for representatives and senators, Geymann added.
“Willpower. Pressure from the public is what is needed to quit doing things the way they’ve been done for so long,” he said. “Yes, we could do without changes to the law and just follow the law. But new legislation would be helpful.”
Even though details of the legislation haven’t been released, Geymann hinted that timelines for budget decisions may be included in the draft proposal.
Geymann believes the hardliners’ position may get traction in the House but will face an uphill battle in the Senate.