Gov. Bobby Jindal has every reason to be confident the state Senate will put most of his $24.9 billion budget for the new fiscal year back together again. History is on his side.
The House sent the budget to the upper chamber last week with $230 million in reductions. It decided the spending plan contained too much onetime money and was too dependent on legislation that hasn’t been approved.
Jindal’s agency heads went ballistic when they heard the news, and their chief has joined them in insisting the House simply panicked. The governor said the budget cuts would damage public safety by forcing the closing of five prisons, would curtail health care services and put higher education at risk.
House leaders dismiss the predictions of gloom that have been relentless since the budget left their hands. They insist the cuts can be handled with a minimum of service disruptions.
Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, probably knows more about this budget than anyone else in or outside the Legislature. And he had some tough advice for department heads.
If they can’t deal with 5 percent budget cuts, he said they should be replaced.
The governor repeated his firm conviction Tuesday that the Senate would make his budget whole again. And that is exactly what senators did last year.
Jindal pressured the House at the 2010 session to accept the $26 billion operating budget now in place. House members wanted to cut $400 million, but had to settle for only $70 million cut by the Senate.
Senators used “rainy day” fund money, tax amnesty funds and money from a state emergency response fund to prop up the budget.
The situation in 2009 wasn’t much different. Here is how The Associated Press described it:
“House leaders began to talk about the need to ‘do more with less,’ to cut the state work force and to downsize government while Senate leaders went to back-room discussions with their fiscal staff about patchwork proposals to drum up additional cash to fill in budget holes.”
The Senate rewrote the entire bill. It used money from a tax-break delay and the “rainy day” fund to put spending back into the $28 billion budget.
In 2008, senators restored most of the dollars stripped by the House from the $29.9 billion budget. The House complained about the growth in government spending, but senators said the programs were essential and put the money back in.
The Senate also restored pay cuts the House made to the governor’s economic development officials and agreed to pay increases for others on Jindal’s team.
House members complained, but didn’t want to reject Senate changes to the budget.
Kathleen Blanco was governor in 2007, but the situation was similar.
House Republicans wanted less government, but senators refused to scale back spending in the $29.7 billion budget.
Sen. Francis Heitmeier, D-New Orleans, was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He said his committee worked with Blanco to make budget changes.
The committee approved 91 pages of budget changes in about five minutes with little discussion. The budget raised spending on education and health care, added more than 1,000 state government jobs and increased pay for state employees, public school teachers and police officers.
Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said of the final 2007 budget, “Some of it is one-time federal funding for hurricane recovery. Much of it, though, is pork barrel spending gone wild.”
Juneau is convinced the Senate penchant for spending money will continue again this year.
“There is little doubt that the Senate will remove the latest round of House cuts, fill HB 1 (the budget bill) back up with excess one-time money and send it back to the House,” the LABI leader said in his latest column.
Rule changes things
When the budget returns, there is a new wrinkle in the process this year that could change the usual outcome. Reps. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, and Jim Morris, R-Oil City, got the House to go along with a new rule that says the use of one-time money requires a two-thirds vote.
Senators don’t have to abide by that rule, but it would apply when the budget gets back to the House. An effort last week to suspend what has come to be known as “the Geymann Rule” picked up only 11 votes.
The rule was adopted with a 60-42 vote, but there is another House resolution waiting in the wings that would repeal the Geymann rule. Whether it goes anywhere remains to be seen, but previous support for the new rule indicates it would be an uphill climb.
Gov. Jindal is the unknown factor here when it comes to the future of the budget. The House has already defied him, but how far is it willing to go to make its point?
It would be my guess, based on past history, that the Senate will do as the governor asks. The House may refuse to concur with the changes and send the revised budget to a conference committee, but Jindal will be the eventual winner.
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].