State budget same song, dance

By By Jim Beam / American Press

You can’t help wondering this time

every year why Louisiana legislators spend so much time on Gov. Bobby

Jindal’s proposed

budget. Those who benefit are primarily concerned about getting

their fair share, the critics are ignored for the most part,

many citizens find the subject boring and the spending plan ends

up pretty much the way Jindal wants it.

The House Appropriations Committee,

which gets first crack at the governor’s $24.9 billion budget, decided

this year to forego

a month’s worth of deliberations until the session begins Monday.

Although some believe that is a mistake, it at least saves

the state a lot of per diem money it would be spending on

legislators who normally attend those hearings.

Two of the harshest critics of the

budgeting process are C.B. Forgotston, who has been dubbed “the King of

Subversive Bloggers,”

and state Treasurer John Kennedy. Both offer up great ideas for

saving money, but their advice is always rejected. The Jindal

team ignores both men. Lawmakers say they don’t pay attention to

Forgotston because he is overly critical, and they think

Kennedy is a publicity hound.

A group of conservative House members called the Fiscal Hawks have also been critical and they had some success in changing

the budget process last year. However, it’s still a long way from the ideal.

Jindal has a simple process for funding

a budget without increasing taxes. He “robs Peter to pay Paul.” The

Associated Press

said he steered tobacco settlement money away from health and

education trust funds and into the operating budget, zeroed

out a list of funds that had dedicated fees for specific purposes

and drained an elderly trust fund that once contained $830

million.

The governor is also proposing to put

$51 million in one-time cash into the state’s coastal protection fund

and then take

a similar amount from the fund to help finance next year’s budget.

He wants to borrow $51 million from the New Orleans convention

center and replace it with $75 million in state bonds over the

next three years. Kennedy said that is $75 million that won’t

be available for desperately needed road work.

The state sold a downtown Baton Rouge

building for $10.2 million and put that money into the state

overcollections fund. Forgotston

correctly calls that a “slush fund” used to balance the state

budget. A surplus of over $295 million in tax amnesty funds

is being used to prop up the coming year’s spending plan. The

governor has also used windfalls that won’t be available in

the future to balance the books.

The Advocate of Baton Rouge put the

Jindal budget system another way. It said the administration counts on

“iffy dollars.”

And that serves only to get the state from one budget year to the

next. The newspaper said a public policy organization put

Jindal’s current budget in its list of “the worst state budget

gimmicks of 2013.”

Kennedy put it another way: “What we’ve done about the budget for the past five or six years is just wrap duct tape around

it,” he said. “We’ve been balancing the budget with smoke and mirrors and accounting tricks.”

Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, is a businessman and leader of the Fiscal Hawks. He said in the business world you wouldn’t

sell a piece of property every year to pay the rent.

“I’ve always used the words ‘accounting gimmicks.’ I think (Jindal’s) using gimmicks. He’s used accounting tricks,” Geymann

said.

Despite all of these valid observations, the governor and his team continue to put a happy face on everything. Here is what

his press office said when Jindal’s budget proposal was released in January.

“Today, Gov. Bobby Jindal submitted a balanced budget proposal to the Legislature that holds the line on taxes, increases

funding for higher education, increases funding for K-12 schools, increases funding for health care and continues to help

foster an environment where business wants to invest and create jobs...,” the news release said.

What the governor didn’t say is that $88 million of a $141 million increase for higher education comes from increased tuition.

State workers will get a pay increase, but they will also pay 5 percent more for their health insurance. K-12 education is

getting more money, but only after five years of freezes.

The media reported that legislators appeared to be happy with Jindal’s budget proposal, but that isn’t anything new. Speaker

of the House Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, spoke for many of them the day after Jindal introduced his budget.

“Things have worked out a lot better than they have in the past...,” Kleckley told the administration. “You’ve done a lot

of work.”

Yes, the administration has done a lot

of work, but it’s not the financially sound way to run state government.

The administration

still grabs any cash laying around, continues to take money

intended for other purposes, depletes trust and other funds, doesn’t

hesitate to use one-time money which Jindal campaigned against in

2007 and paints a rosy picture whatever the situation.

Except for a burst of independence last

year from the Fiscal Hawks, you can see the budget process hasn’t

changed much since

the governor took office in 2008. Jindal controls the purse

strings, so he always gets what he wants. However, have some pity

for the next governor who will inherit a state financing system,

as Kennedy said, that is patched together with duct tape.

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.