Louisiana legislators continue to criticize the wacky way Gov. Bobby Jindal and his administrative team fund the state’s budgets. However, they lack the will power and the courage to “do it their way.” Whenever people don’t like the way things are being done, they should always have an alternative plan. Otherwise, their complaints fall on deaf ears.
The Jindal team has had its way for the last six years, and it will leave a state in 2016 that could be in pitiful financial shape. Are they worried? Not in the least. But have some pity for the winner of the next gubernatorial election. He or she will have a formidable task trying to restore some stability to the state’s money woes.
Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, said the budget holes are so big, “I almost wish I wasn’t coming back next year.”
Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is also voicing concerns about the future. He and others on his committee say the use of $680 million in what they call piecemeal financing for health care services for fiscal year 2014-15 could jeopardize those services in years to come.
“We’re digging the hole deeper and deeper,” Fannin said. “My calculator’s adding up a lot of challenges for you,” he told Kathy Kliebert, secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals.
Surprisingly, Kliebert agreed. However, she quickly added the administration is working on proposals to draw down more federal health care dollars to balance her department’s budget in years to come. And she said an improving economy and more efficiency will generate new dollars.
So, there you have the typical response from the Jindal people. It’s, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be OK. Take our word for it.”
Then, the committee heard from Kristy Nichols, the commissioner of administration and the governor’s top budget adviser. Nichols said the governor’s budget proposal overestimated the tax amnesty money available in next year’s Medicaid program by $40 million. That is the federal-state health care program for poor and low-income residents.
The committee then got the response it always gets from Jindal spokespersons. It’s, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Nichols said other dollars are available to cover the shortfall, including money generated by a recent state bond sale.
A third concern centered around $12 million taken from federal hurricane recovery money to provide services for the developmentally disabled. Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Erath, wanted to know how those dollars would be replaced in the next fiscal year.
Kliebert said the administration will be sure those people won’t lose the home- and community-based health care program. She never said how that could be guaranteed.
The budget planners are taking $233 million from the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly to fund that program. That leaves only $30 million in a trust fund that contained $800 million before Jindal started depleting the funds to balance the budget. Those funds came from federal cash made available a decade ago during the administration of Gov. Mike Foster.
Members of the Appropriations Committee weren’t happy when they learned that $6 million in wind damage reimbursements from Hurricane Gustav in 2008 are being used to help cover retirement costs in the state Department of Corrections budget. Champagne said the administration tells her every year there is no extra money for actual hurricane projects, but managed to find the $6 million to fund retirement costs.
The DOC budget contains no money for supplies and repairs, and Fannin wanted to know how those would be handled. Jimmy LeBlanc, secretary of the department, said he will find money to fund repairs and his department is becoming more self-sufficient by growing vegetables and raising cattle. However, it’s obviously not enough to get by without that $6 million in hurricane money.
Jindal also wants to use $50 million from the New Orleans convention center and another $51 million from the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund to help balance the budget.
Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, a fiscal conservative, said back in February, “They’re getting around the law by changing the color of the money. That’s money laundering.”
The Associated Press in early-March said, “The (budget) maneuvers leave any governor to follow Jindal, who is term-limited in early 2016, with fewer dollars socked away in savings accounts, less money from annual interest earnings to pay for ongoing expenses and lingering disputes tied to the (administration’s) fund sweeps.”
Despite grabbing money wherever it can be found, the Jindal budgeteers have managed to come up with new money. It will be used to increase education and health care spending, give pay raises to state workers and create a $40 million incentive fund for higher education institutions to improve their science, engineering and technology training.
The budget concerns being expressed by legislators are legitimate, but don’t look for them to take any independent action to fix the problems. The odds are this pieced-together spending plan will emerge at the end of the session pretty much the way the governor wants it. It’s standard operating procedure at every legislative session.
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 email@example.com.