Lawsuit challenges Jindal budgeting tactics

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

Lane Grigsby.