State lawmakers propose restructuring budget process

By By John Guidroz / American Press

A group of state lawmakers is proposing a series of measures in the upcoming session to reform the state’s budgetary process,

including a constitutional amendment aimed at reducing cuts to higher education and health care.

The Louisiana Budget Reform Campaign released the draft legislative reform package Tuesday, and the group plans to introduce

the measures once the session begins April 8. The package also proposes preventing the use of one-time money on recurring

expenses and giving lawmakers more time to review the budget during the session.

“We’ve tried to focus on how the process unfolds,” said Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles and chairman of the coalition.

“We think it’s something people can support. Everyone recognizes there’s a fundamental problem with what’s going on.”

One constitutional amendment would

require Gov. Bobby Jindal to submit two appropriations bills when the

state legislative

auditor rules that there would be cuts to health care or higher

education, Geymann said. A separate bill would lump health

care and higher education in with every program that is not

mandated by the state constitution. Geymann said it will ensure

that health care and higher education “don’t take the brunt of the

cuts” during the session.

“By funding them first, we can let the funding funnel down to the other important things,” Geymann said.

He said that prioritizing which items should be cut was “one thing we heard everywhere we went” while speaking to business

and civic groups about the budget reform package.

According to New Orleans’

Times-Picayune, about $8.2 billion of the state’s $25 billion budget “is

in the state’s general

fund, which can be used for a range of government activities.” But

only $2.4 billion of the general fund can be modified by

the Jindal administration and the Legislature. The rest is part of

“non-discretionary spending” like “funding the state’s

Minimum Foundation Program or paying off retirement obligations.”

Another set of constitutional

amendments would require the House to be notified of any Senate-approved

amendments within 24

hours of approval. House lawmakers will have three days to review

the amendments before voting on them. The budget bill would

have to be approved by the Legislature two weeks before the

session ends.

“That way, we don’t end up on the last weekend being forced to vote for something you might not want to vote for,” Geymann

said.

Another constitutional amendment would

prevent any one-time money being spent on recurring expenses. Geymann

said the Legislature

could also not approve spending money from activities, like the

sale of state property, unless the Revenue Estimating Conference

recognizes it as being available for spending. The REC would have

to specify whether the money is recurring or nonrecurring.

“We’re not saying you can’t spend money on the sale of an asset,” he said. “But it needs to be recognized as available in

the budget forecast. From a stability factor, throughout the year, the REC should recognize every dollar we spend.”

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said he has “briefly reviewed” the reform package. He said he is eager to meet

with members of the coalition.

“We’re in some difficult budget times in the state,” he said. “I’ve always supported minimizing cuts to higher (education)

and health care. If they have a better way to do it, I’d like to get some more information on it.”

Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds approval in the House and Senate and also require the approval of voters. Geymann

said the measures could be tweaked before the session begins, based on feedback from other lawmakers and the public.

Online: www.labudgetreform.com.