Gov. Bobby Jindal. (American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 4:49 PM
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Two Jefferson Parish lawmakers lodged a legal challenge Tuesday against the state's $25 billion budget, asking a judge to declare its patchwork financing a violation of Louisiana's Constitution.
Republican Reps. Kirk Talbot and Cameron Henry filed the lawsuit, which is the latest salvo in an ongoing dispute that conservative House Republicans have with GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal over his use of one-time funding to pay for ongoing programs and services in state government.
"We're asking for a declaration as to what the budget rules are and how they apply," said lawyer Kyle Keegan, who is representing Talbot and Henry.
The lawsuit says the budget is unconstitutional because it spends $240 million more from the state general fund than the amount recognized by the state's income forecasting panel and because it doesn't follow constitutional limits on spending money deemed "nonrecurring."
Talbot and Henry also take issue in the lawsuit with the budget using dollars that haven't materialized, like $35 million from the sale or lease of the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital and $56 million in property insurance claims.
One-time dollars in this year's budget come from items like state property sales, loan repayments, legal settlements and unused fund balances.
Named as defendants were the state, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and Treasurer John Kennedy. The lawsuit was filed in state district court in Baton Rouge.
Jindal issued a statement Tuesday defending the budget as constitutional, noting it was approved by the Legislature and saying it "doesn't spend more money than the state takes in."
Kennedy said the lawsuit will help clear up issues that have divided lawmakers repeatedly during budget debates.
"The reliance on contingencies in our budget, whether we have complied with revenue estimates, these are important questions. I think it's equally important that we get clarity from the courts so that we can budget in the proper way," he said.
Talbot and 18 other members of the Louisiana House previously asked Caldwell's office for an opinion about whether the governor's budgeting tactics were in line with the state constitution. The attorney general's office refused to issue an opinion because the office would be required to defend the budget in court in any lawsuit.
Talbot, R-River Ridge, said that left him no other option than to file a lawsuit seeking guidance.
"It's really the only path we have left. The attorney general decided not to weigh in on it, so that put us back to square one. We're no clearer on where we stand," he said. "I think everybody would like closure on this issue."
The "fiscal hawks" have repeatedly criticized the piecemeal funding as inappropriate, saying it's irresponsible to use money that isn't certain to appear year after year and claiming it causes perpetual budget shortfalls.
But they have been unsuccessful in blocking use of the money.
The Jindal administration said public colleges and health services would have faced devastating cuts without the funding, and a majority of lawmakers agreed to use the money to stave off the reductions. Senators voted unanimously for a budget that included the one-time money.
"It doesn't make sense to make unnecessary cuts to health care and higher education," the governor said.
Talbot said he hoped to get a ruling on the lawsuit before next year's 2013-14 budget is passed and the new fiscal year starts July 1.
He said the lawsuit is being financed
through campaign dollars and with assistance from politically active
Baton Rouge businessman