Reworked budget compromise taking shape in House

BATON ROUGE — A rare coalition of Louisiana legislators claimed victory Thursday in their efforts to rewrite Gov. Bobby Jindal’s $24.7 billion budget.

Two Lake Charles Republicans played key roles in putting a spending plan together that the coalition believes is groundbreaking in the way the state spends its money. House Speaker Chuck Kleckley and Rep. Brett Geymann took part in a news conference on the Capitol steps, along with fellow Republicans, Democrats and members of the Legislative Black Caucus, to comment on the way the plan came together.

Members of the coalition weren’t happy with the governor’s budget because it contained one-time money and revenues that haven’t materialized yet. They said that is why agencies have to deal with annual midyear and occasional year-end budget cuts when deficits occur.

Jindal called a news conference minutes later and said he was happy the coalition had abandoned its original plan, which would have raised $1.3 billion in taxes over four years. The governor said he is still waiting for details of the House proposal and noted that it also has to have the approval of the state Senate.

Some parts of the plan cause him concerns, Jindal said. He added he still opposes any tax increases and said any revenues saved from tax credits that are eliminated have to be used elsewhere.

“I am not opposed to the use of one-time money when it is used to protect critical priorities,” he said when asked about the tax amnesty part of the coalition budget plan that would produce $200 million.

Other revenues will be raised from budget cuts, tobacco settlement refinancing, modifications with movie tax credits and Enterprise Zone funding, severance tax savings and Internet sales.

The final piece of the puzzle won’t be completed until the House votes today on four pieces of legislation that require a two-thirds vote (70) to complete work on the budget.

Kleckley’s support helped cement what the coalition believes is the necessary two-thirds vote needed to deal with taxes that will replace revenues used by Jindal. But the final vote is the only one that counts.

“The people around me today have been working with issues. This demonstrates the 105 members of the House are passionate about what they do,” Kleckley said. “It’s also a clear indication it’s the right thing for the state.”

Geymann is a top leader in a group of Republican conservatives called the “Fiscal Hawks” who believed they could produce a better product and who put the coalition together.

“I am proud to be a part of it,” he said. “It’s an historic day for the state.”

Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-West Monroe, is chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus. She said the budget deal was done in a nonpartisan way.

“This is not our budget, but it’s the people’s budget,” Jackson said. “We did it without hurting or making anyone bleed. It was done with the people at heart.”

Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, another leader of the coalition, said, “Hopefully, this changes the game forever. We have had a positive atmosphere to work in, thanks to the speaker.”

Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, is chairman of the Democratic Caucus. He said contingency and one-time money is gone from the budget and it contains no tax increases. 

“It’s a balanced, modest step forward. I hope we get it back from the Senate similar to what we send them,” Edwards said.

Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which produced the legislation the coalition needed to complete its budget plan.

“At times, it was a skeptical process, but the members didn’t get skeptical,” Robideaux said. “This is just the first step in the process. We need to get it out of the House and into the Senate.”

Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, is chairman of the Rural Caucus. He said a lot of issues vital to rural areas had to be addressed.

“I am proud to be a part of this Legislature. This group of individuals set aside their differences,” Montoucet said.

Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, said the House can send a message to others in politics that you can get things done if you work on them.

“I have gained back a lot of respect for this process,” he said.