The world didn’t come to an end last Saturday, but Louisiana will be facing some bleak days ahead if the predictions of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s forces are accurate.
Jindal’s proposed $24.9 billion state budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 was hotly debated in public and behind closed doors at the state Capitol last week, and it wasn’t pretty.
The House Appropriations Committee made $139 million in reductions to the governor’s spending plan and grabbed $82 million from an industry inducement fund to plug some other holes.
The full House made more reductions, and the latest total in cuts is over $230 million.
Obviously, Jindal wasn’t happy.
“It would be foolish for us to be cutting health care, education and other critical services when we have the money in hand,” the governor said Friday.
Funny Jindal should mention that, because House officials said they cut the budget because all the money wasn’t there. Some of the revenues were based on events that haven’t happened, they said.
“We didn’t get a balanced budget to begin with,” said Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Speaker of the House Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, also said it contained too much one-time money and funding that hadn’t been approved.
Two developments upset the governor and his legislative team.
The first was House passage of an amendment sponsored by Reps. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, and Jim Morris, R-Oil City. It requires a two-thirds vote to use one time money, those funds that are here today and gone tomorrow.
Conservatives love the rule, or at least most of them do. It keeps the state from spending money this year that won’t be available next year.
Jindal says he is a fiscal conservative, but he made it clear he wants that rule repealed. His budget contains almost $450 million in onetime money.
Another major disagreement erupted when Fannin proposed taking $81 million from a fund set aside to create coordinated care networks for 800,000 Medicaid recipients. That is the federal-state program for low-income citizens.
Fannin said all of the money in that fund wasn’t needed right away.
Take that $81 million from health care, the governor’s advisers said, and payments to hospitals, doctors and other providers would have to be cut.
Fannin’s amendment to the budget that was approved by the House specifically said the $81 million cut shouldn’t be recovered by cutting payments to medical providers.
The House then voted 93-4 to send the budget to the Senate.
Jindal and his forces had lost another round, but they stood their ground.
Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater laid out a “sky-will-fall” scenario.
State police would have to lay off troopers for the first time in history, five prisons would close, parishes might not get emergency help in times of crisis, the most vulnerable citizens would lose health care coverage, and the state could lose valuable new industries.
Even though the House said don’t cut payments to medical providers, Bruce Greenstein, secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals, said he had no other choice. And he added that $264 million in federal funds would be lost.
Another round begins Monday, when the Senate Finance Committee begins budget discussions. And if history is any indication, the big spenders in the upper chamber will probably eliminate most of those budget cuts.
It has become tradition for the Senate to hold on to the spending plan until the last day of the session. Last year, the House reluctantly accepted a budget that members didn’t like.
A state senator I spoke with last week offered a good explanation for some of the turmoil we have seen during the current session. I won’t use his name, since it wasn’t an official interview.
It’s an absence of leadership, an ongoing problem, he said. The speaker of the House and the Senate president don’t get along, he said, and the governor and the speaker seem to be on the outs.
Some governors fail to build relationships with legislators, who are equal partners in this political process. Buddy Roemer had some of the same problems being experienced by Jindal when he was governor.
A key official in Roemer’s cabinet told me at the time that legislators are never satisfied, no matter how hard you try to keep them happy.
Maybe some of them are difficult, but governors have to make an effort to work more closely for the good of the people who all of them serve.
Some recent governors who served in the Legislature have been successful because of that experience.
John J. McKeithen, Edwin W. Edwards and Mike Foster all served two terms or more as governor and had good working relationships with lawmakers. It wasn’t unusual to see them roaming the halls, visiting committees and floor sessions and making themselves available to the public, the Legislature and the media.
Legislators knew they could count on them to keep their word and to respect the role they play in state government. Jindal would have fewer problems like those he experienced with the budget last week if he worked harder to build that same kind of trust.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].