Use of one-time money still frustrating House members

Published 8:01 pm Thursday, April 25, 2013

BATON ROUGE — A proposed $24.7 billion state budget that is based on one-time money and contingency funding continues to be a frustration for both Republican and Democratic members of the state House of Representatives.

House Bill 1, which contains the spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1, will be the main order of business next week for the House Appropriations Committee.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has once again used funds in his budget that aren’t expected to be available in coming years and revenues that are based on actions that haven’t occurred yet. Property sales are one of those latter sources.

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Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, is a leader of a group of young Republican legislators called “Fiscal Hawks” who want to reform the budget process. However, they are being confronted this year with a scenario similar to last year — those questionable revenue sources could once again be removed in the House and then restored by the Senate.

Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, the No. 2 man in the House, confirmed Thursday that there will be a move in the appropriations committee next week to remove $500 million in one-time funding.

Leger said there would also be efforts to restore $100 million in funding for the New Orleans Convention Center that Jindal wants to use in the budget and money for programs like cancer screening and domestic violence programs. 

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said after adjournment the committee has no other choice but to remove the $500 million. A House resolution called the “Geymann Rule” says a two-thirds vote is required to take up a budget with one-time money, and the votes aren’t there to do that.

“The House rule is what it is,” Kleckley said. He added that the budget for the next fiscal year can only include $199 million in extra funds that the Revenue Estimating Conference says will be there in fiscal 2013-2014. 

Geymann wants to see the budget balanced in the House where the funding process begins. “We want to fix the problem, not the Senate,” he said Thursday. “There are 105 members here who can do it.”

A bipartisan group is working on a plan and will continue pursuing a possible solution over the weekend, Geymann said.

Both Geymann and Leger said House members are hesitant to make the first move. They said members are waiting, “afraid to put ideas out there.”

Geymann said those who don’t want change put out misinformation or “demonize our ideas.” However, he said he is confident a workable funding plan can still be found.

Removal of that $500 million would mean more cuts to health care and higher education, and Geymann said the public would be furious about that. He said people don’t want any more cuts to those two areas that aren’t protected from budget reductions.

Cuts to all agencies of state government should be considered, he said. And the Hawks have budget bills aimed at making that possible — if they are eventually enacted.

Leger called the current situation “extremely frustrating.” He said members are uncertain how to proceed because of the threat of a governor’s veto hanging over their heads. Things seem to be frozen in time, he said.

“Why waste time with a veto threat out there?” he said.

A couple of solutions have already been tried, Leger said. A proposed tobacco tax increase was rejected, and a House committee killed a move to force the state to expand its Medicaid health care program for the poor.

An expansion called for under Obamacare would mean more revenues for the state.

The House is divided three ways, Leger said. There are those who don’t want a replay of last year when the Senate rewrote the budget; those who are OK with that; and a third group that is somewhere in between.””

Louisiana State Capital