Last Modified: Saturday, May 12, 2012 5:52 PM
Republican conservatives took the unusual step Friday of giving the state commissioner of administration a $349 million menu from which he is to cut $267 million in one-time money from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s $25 billion spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1.
The menu was part of an amendment to House Bill 1, which contains the state spending plan for fiscal 2012-13. Once the amendment was adopted, the House began lengthy debate on the legislation.
Reps. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, and Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, sponsored the amendment listing nine areas where Paul Rainwater, the commissioner, can make budget reductions to eliminate the one-time money.
The one-time money — funds that aren’t expected to be available next year — were used by the governor’s fiscal staff to plug holes in the 2012-13 budget. GOP lawmakers said use of those funds only creates budget problems in the new year that result in mid-year and other cuts that are harmful for state agencies.
The vote for the amendment was 51-48. It was supported by 49 Republicans, one Democrat and one independent. Voting against were 40 Democrats, seven Republicans and one independent.
Southwest Louisiana House members supporting the amendment were Reps. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur; Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff; Johnny Guinn, R-Jennings; Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville; and Frank Howard, R-Many. Against were Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, and Reps. James Armes, D-Leesville; A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles; and Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek.
The nine areas are: budget increases, $16 million; funding of vacancies, $44 million; out-of-state travel, conferences and supplies, $41 million; professional, personal and consulting service contracts, $75 million; furloughing employees for two calendar days, $16 million; overtime pay, $19.7 million; dedicated appropriation areas, $70 million; judgments, $12 million; and 5 percent salary reductions for higher-paid employees, $55 million.
Critics of the amendment said they were concerned about where the commissioner might make his budget reductions. Henry quoted from the amendment that says, “The commissioner shall make reductions and means of financing adjustments to cause on impact to critical services.”
Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, voiced strong opposition to the amendment. He said his committee has been working on the governor’s proposed budget since February and the amendment gives that authority to the commissioner of administration.
“Did your people send you down here to not do a budget?” Fannin asked. “Think about what you are doing, members. You’re giving your authority away.”
Fannin said he wanted a record vote on the amendment so the voters back home would know how their representatives voted so they could discuss it with them. He said later it would be the most serious vote they would take over the next four years.
“This vote will keep some of you out of this body next time,” Fannin said. “You ought to be thinking about what you are doing.”
Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Erath, and others took exception to Fannin’s statement.
“I did not run for this office for the next election,” Champagne said. “If so, it’s time for me to go home.”
Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, defended the amendment. He said he hasn’t seen a list of priorities during the five years he has been in the House. He added that the commissioner of administration is already making decisions about budget cuts. Schroder said 20 states didn’t have to make budget cuts at mid-year or at any other time.
We have to start defining what we want our government to look like,” Schroder said. “This is about doing what taxpayers can afford. Do it now and spread cuts over the next 12 months, not 2.”
Henry said the use of one-time money creates the need to cut budgets during the next year that are harmful to state agencies.
“The cuts will come from higher education and health care,” Henry said. “That’s where the money is. We can’t continue to spend money we don’t have.”