Louisiana lawmakers want to restructure budget process
BATON ROUGE, La. — Conservative House lawmakers who have been at odds with Gov. Bobby Jindal over budgeting tactics proposed Tuesday to rewrite the laws governing how the state estimates and spends its money and how the annual budget is crafted.
The package of bills unveiled by the mainly Republican group, calling itself the Budget Reform Coalition, would limit what dollars lawmakers and the governor could use to pay for ongoing programs and services. It also would set up a detailed timeline for handling the budget so that lawmakers couldn’t pull it together in the final hours of a legislative session.
Many of the measures would rewrite constitutional provisions, making them tougher to pass in the legislative session that begins in April. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of lawmakers and support from voters at a statewide election.
Rep. Brett Geymann, chairman of the coalition, said the proposals were designed to fix a broken budget process that he blames for causing repeated and devastating rounds of cuts to health care programs and public colleges.
Jindal hasn’t said whether he’ll support the proposals. His spokesman, Sean Lansing, said the Republican governor will consider the legislation and the administration has had “good discussions” with budget coalition leaders.
However, Jindal has previously said changes proposed by the House conservatives would force deeper cuts to critical services, a position echoed by Senate leaders whose support would be needed to make any changes to the budget process.
Lawmakers in the budget coalition, which has about 30 members, say scrounging up one-time sources of cash from land sales and legal settlements to pay for continuing programs, as Jindal has done, only creates new budget shortfalls when those dollars fall away in the next fiscal year — or don’t pan out as expected.
But the conservative House members have been unsuccessful in making changes as the budget moves through the legislative session, with the Senate strongly supporting Jindal’s recommendations each year.
As Jindal proposes redesigning Louisiana’s tax code, budget coalition leader Rep. Lance Harris said lawmakers first must change how they spend the state’s money.
“We keep pouring water into our bucket year after year, but it’s clear now that there is a hole in our bucket,” Harris, R-Alexandria, said in a statement. “Before we make changes to where we get the water, it would make a whole lot of sense to fix the bucket first.”
The proposals from the Budget Reform Coalition, included in seven bills, would:
—Ban the spending of dollars that are tied to something that hasn’t yet happened, like a property sale or an expected insurance settlement.
—Require the state’s income forecasting panel to determine which dollars are expected to appear year after year. Lawmakers would be limited in how they could spend one-time money, and they wouldn’t be able to spend dollars not recognized by the Revenue Estimating Conference.
—Set more detailed timelines for when the House and Senate must wrap up their work on spending plans, pushing the deadlines about two weeks earlier in a legislative session.
—Require more scrutiny of dollars that are earmarked to programs required by state law or constitution. If higher education and health care are proposed for cuts, spending from the earmarked funds would be split into a second piece of legislation, so lawmakers could decide if they want to reverse some of the obligations, to protect health care and colleges.
By MELINDA DESLATTE