Beam: Governor won’t sit down, talk

By By Jim Beam / American Press

BATON ROUGE — The House of Representatives is as close this week as it has been in years to fixing the budget-writing process.

However, it’s almost impossible to find reasonable public officials on all sides of the issue who are willing to engage in

some give-and-take.

The legislative process is a three-legged stool. The governor submits a budget to the House, it often reworks the spending

plan the way it likes and the Senate then gets its turn at bat.

Gov. Bobby Jindal is the most hard-headed of the three groups it takes to forge a workable compromise. The governor has always

prevailed because he has been able to count on the Senate to do things his way.

Some will ask, “What’s the problem?”

Jindal for the last five years has submitted budgets that count on revenues that aren’t always dependable. And when the money

doesn’t show up, higher education and health care take the hits.

Neither of those areas is protected from budget reductions, so they pay a heavy price when money comes up short. They have

faced mid-year budget reductions every year Jindal has been in office. There have even been some year-end cuts. 

Take higher education, for example. The

state spent $1.4 billion for colleges and universities in fiscal year

2007-08. The

budget Jindal proposed for the fiscal year starting July 1

contains $284.5 million for higher education. That is an 80 percent

reduction in state funding over those years.

The governor always justifies the cuts by saying colleges and universities have been able to raise tuition to make up the

difference. However, that just isn’t the case. While I am writing this, there are higher education officials in the state

Capitol who are speaking in favor of bills that would give them authority to seek even higher tuition.

This year, a group of House Republicans

has forged a budget plan based on more dependable revenues. They are

tired of seeing

their colleges and universities struggling and citizens being

denied health care they need and can’t afford. The Republicans have

picked up support from their Democratic colleagues, whom they need

to reach the magic two-thirds level (70 members of the

House) to enact legislation dealing with tax issues.

Supporters of the plan told The Associated Press their compromise closes loopholes for special interest groups and protects

higher education and health care services from deep budget cuts. 

Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, is one of the leaders of the Republicans in the House coalition.

“We’re trying to solve the problem,” Geymann told AP. “We will not have a hole to fill at the beginning of the next year that

was caused by accounting gimmicks.”

The plan the GOP-Demo coalition is

pushing replaces the $500 million in uncertain revenues proposed by

Jindal with budget

cuts, a 15 percent reduction in tax exemptions and credits and

with other funds. The hardest pill for some to swallow is the

$329 million that comes from those exemption changes because they

fall heavily on business and industry.

Dan Borne, president of the Louisiana Chemical Association, has been an effective spokesman for his industries, and many of

them are located in Southwest Louisiana. This is a part of the coalition plan that needs a closer examination, but getting

the parties to the same table has been impossible.

Instead of sitting down with and trying

to work with the House coalition, Jindal has chosen to fight them with

everything

he can muster. For two days this week, he paraded two dozen people

before TV cameras and news reporters to have some of those

folks talk about the dire consequences of what the House is trying

to do.

A number of those at the news

conferences were lobbyists for special interests, some of the same

people Jindal was criticizing

when they fought his plan to eliminate income taxes. Others are

actually engaged in the businesses and industries they represented.

The Louisiana Republican Party has only hampered the effort to fix the budget by accusing its House members of backing tax

increases. Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, another coalition leader, downplayed the state party’s opposition, calling it

a mouthpiece for the governor.

 Geymann knows the governor always

holds the upper hand, but he refuses to throw in the towel. He considers

this a rare opportunity

to change the way the state does its business.

“We have challenged those in opposition to come up with better solutions. I am still hopeful that we can come up with a solution

that has strong support,” Geymann said Wednesday. “If you don’t like Plan A and B, then submit Plan C.”

No one knows how this opportunity to

change things will turn out, but we could have the answer by week’s end.

The rewritten

budget is scheduled to be debated on the House floor Friday, and

it could be the coalition’s last best opportunity to fashion

a budget that better meets the needs of this state’s citizens. 

None of this complex maneuvering would

have been necessary if Jindal had been willing to sit down and work with

the House

and the Senate to bring more stability to the state budget.

Unfortunately, he rarely compromises. It’s still his way or the

highway.

    • • •

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