BURNS: Are the ‘Fiscal Hawks’ Today’s ‘Young Turks?’

The Young Turks were a group of Louisiana legislators in the late 1960′s and early 70′s who urged for spending cuts, reducing the number of state employees, and reducing the amount of bonded indebtedness. They also instituted a number of procedural reforms which substantially improved the independence and decorum of the legislature. If you think the legislature is a bit of a circus now, you should have seen it then.

The legend of the Young Turks has endured for decades as a memorable point in Louisiana politics and in 2012, its leader, former House Speaker, Bubba Henry, was inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame.

Today a group of lawmakers, called the Fiscal hawks, are making their mark in the Louisiana legislature. Their focus is also on sound budget practices and, in particular, the use of “one time” money; a.k.a., nonrecurring revenue, to offset recurring expenses in order to balance the state’s budget. Critics argue that this practice simply perpetuates structural budget deficits while advocates claim that it helps to buffer budget cuts during difficult times.

The crusade against “one time” money started to gain traction in 2011 with the passage of HR 27 by Representatives Brent Geymann (R-Lake Charles) and Jim Morris (R-Oil City), which required a two-thirds vote during the house budget approval process with respect to a budget containing one-time money. For both the 2011 and 2012 sessions, HR 27 brought the House to a screeching halt as budgets with one-time money initially failed to receive the necessary 2/3′s vote. But this roadblock proved to be temporary, as a detour was found in which the House would “cut” all of the one-time money that was then promptly restored by the Senate. However, HR 27 did  serve to spotlight and reduce the use of one-time money.

After the 2012 session, the one-time money opponents merged with a reform group from the 2007 legislative class led by Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington) to form the Fiscal hawks and approached the 2013 legislative session with a budget reform agenda as well as an alliance with the House Democrats, as most of the original Hawks were Republican.

After a show of some early independence and strength, the Hawks and House Democrats suddenly pounced this week by overwhelmingly passing a House floor amendment which effectively blocked the one-time money detour and provided them greater leverage in the budget approval process. An alternate budget, certainly without “one-time” money, is expected to be circulated to the full House this coming Monday, May 6th.

While it is still a bit early to determine whether the Budget Hawks will live on in Louisiana political lore, they are certainly a force to be reckoned with in the 2013 legislative session, particularly with the support of the House Democrats. So stay tuned because it’s going to get very interesting.

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