Political observers at the state Capitol Friday saw a perfect example of how “politics makes strange bedfellows.” The Democrats in the House of Representatives have fought Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal at almost every turn. However, they were almost unanimous in defense of his proposed $25 billion budget.
The issue that caused both Democrats and Republicans to switch sides was the Jindal administration’s use of $267 million in one-time money. Those are funds that aren’t available in succeeding years to pay for ongoing services.
Jindal budget writers have become addicted to using one-time money, and the bad habit comes back to haunt them the next year. In the current year, for example, state agencies are $211 million short with less than two months remaining in the fiscal year to make their cuts.
Republican conservatives who are tight-fisted with money have increased their numbers in the House, and they decided to take a strong stand this year against use of one-time money. One of the champions of their cause is Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, who is as principled a fellow as I have ever known.
Geymann wouldn’t even turn in a list of House committees he would like to serve on when Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, was asking members about their preferences. I asked him why, and he said he doesn’t want to be obligated to the Jindal administration or anyone else.
I spent most of Friday afternoon at the office watching House deliberations on the Internet. I left Baton Rouge Thursday because there had been no plans for the House to convene the next day. However, Geymann and his budget-cutting team refused to discuss the proposed budget as long as it contained that $267 million in one-time money.
Geymann sponsored a House rule last year that requires a two-thirds vote anytime anyone wants to use one-time money in the budget. He offered an amendment Thursday that said the budget couldn’t be discussed by the full House if it contained one-time money. He won the vote, 51-48.
Jindal forces were caught off guard. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee that overhauled the governor’s budget, huddled with Kleckley and others. They decided to call it quits after a recess that lasted nearly seven hours.
A planned 9 a.m. start on Friday was delayed until about 11 a.m. That is when Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, and vice chairman of Fannin’s appropriations committee, and Geymann offered an amendment to the budget bill.
The amendment listed nine areas where the budget could be cut to eliminate the $267 million in onetime money. It gave Paul Rainwater, state commissioner of administration and Jindal’s budget architect, $350 million to choose from so he could avoid reducing spending in critical areas like health care and education.
One Democrat after another came to the microphone or asked questions in defense of the budget the Jindal administration had put together with the one-time money. The temporary alliance was a rare sight, and one we may not see again anytime soon.
Meanwhile, the Republicans who have stuck with Jindal through thick and thin were on the opposite side now and calling for more responsible spending of state funds. You could sense they meant business this time and insisted they had the votes to back up their plans to get rid of that one-time money.
Suspense mounted as debate on the Henry and Geymann amendment wore on Friday afternoon. I also watched a rare occurrence. Fannin, a man I have described in the past as “Gentleman Jim,” lost his cool. It was understandable, of course, because that amendment was going to reconstruct a budget he and his committee had been working on since February.
Fannin riled some representatives who were planning to support the amendment, and probably went too far. But he was in the heat of battle at the time.
“This vote will keep some of you out of this body next time,” Fannin said. “You ought to be thinking about what you are doing.”
Actually, what they were doing was probably exactly what their folks back home wanted them to do – spend taxpayer funds more wisely. Fannin kept saying they should have done it in committee, but they got shot down when they tried that on a companion measure.
Geymann said before the vote, “If you call yourself a fiscal conservative, you have to take the one-time money out.”
The Henry-Geymann amendment was approved 51-48. The lineup said it all. The vote showed 49 Republicans favored the amendment, and seven were against. Forty of the 41 Democrats who voted were against the amendment. The two independents in the House split their votes.
Rep. Mike Danahay of Sulphur was the one Democrat who voted for the amendment. You can be certain he gave his vote a lot of thought beforehand. Anyone who has followed his record knows he gives issues like this serious consideration and votes responsibly.
Thanks to everyone involved, I now have a better appreciation of what it means when someone says, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-494-4025 or [email protected].