Minden Press-Herald

Oct 02nd

House backs $25B budget

Reynolds votes against cuts of one-time money

BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana House ended its stalemate Friday and backed a $25 billion budget proposal for next year with deeper cuts than those sought by Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration.

House Republicans stripped $268 million in one-time money out of the 2012-13 budget, arguing the dollars shouldn't pay for continuing services. As directed, the cuts could include furloughs for state workers, reductions to overtime pay and elimination of vacant jobs.

The House vote was close – 51 in favor, 48 against with District 10 Rep. Gene Reynolds casting one of those dissenting votes.

"If this goes through, LSU Medical Center will be hit hard – and as far as a merger between LSU-S and Louisiana Tech – that will never happen," Reynolds said. "LSU-S would get hacked to death. These cuts will endanger vital services."

But Reynolds feels like the bill will never make it through the Senate as it reads now.

"The Senate's probably going to re-do all of this anyway," Reynolds said. "Then, they will send it back over to the House where we will either concur or not.

"I feel the Senate will put a lot of the cuts back in there, if not all of it," he continued.

Decision-making for those reductions and another $43 million in cuts would be left to the governor's office.

Jindal's top budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, said the House budget would force the administration to cut $200 million across Louisiana's public colleges and slash dollars for health care services in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"We are putting our responsibility on the Department of Administration, and that's not their job," Reynolds said. "Our job is to come up with the budget – not Rainwater."

Lawmakers voted 51-48 to strip the patchwork funding. Four hours later, the House voted 63-28 for the final budget proposal.

As action shifts to the Senate, the Jindal administration is expected to work to restore the dollars stripped and where senators so far haven't objected to the use of one-time financing.

The House budget doesn't reflect the wishes of its sponsor, Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, who unsuccessfully fought to keep the one-time cash in the spending plans. Fannin, D-Jonesboro, said critical services could be damaged with the cuts and planned to ask senators to add money back into the bill.

"I didn't like the budget when I started. I like it even less now," he said. "I can assure you it will be different when it comes back."

Conservative Republicans were at philosophical odds with the Republican governor, GOP House Speaker Chuck Kleckley and Democratic lawmakers over whether to use the piecemeal funding to balance the budget.

A bloc of Republican lawmakers say the one-time dollars create false expectations in state agencies, paying for services the state can't afford year after year. Other lawmakers and Jindal, who was out of state fundraising when the House debated the budget, say stripping the money would force damaging cuts to colleges and health care programs.

The conservative GOP bloc won the vote on an amendment to remove the one-time money from the budget, backing a proposal by Republican Rep. Cameron Henry, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles.

Henry's amendment would give the governor's Division of Administration a list of eight ways to cut the budget. The administration would have to choose $268 million in reductions out of the $345 million list.

"It's just a menu, just like when you go to the restaurant. Pick the ones you like," Henry said.

Democratic lawmakers, who are siding with Jindal on the budget bill, called the Henry plan an abdication of legislative authority. They argued lawmakers shouldn't be stripping dollars from next year's budget in a session where they've backed a 10 year, $37 million tax break for the New Orleans Hornets and other tax rebates.

Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, leader of the House Democratic caucus, suggested the Republicans' proposal was crafted in such a way to give lawmakers cover from being responsible for what gets slashed, leaving the Jindal administration to take the blame.

"Here, we're just punting," Edwards said.

The list in Henry's amendment includes: eliminating vacant positions across state agencies; reductions to employee overtime pay; two days of furloughs for state workers; five percent cuts to personnel costs for employees who are in the top half of state salaries; and reductions to consulting and professional services contracts. The Legislature's budget also would be trimmed under the plan.

A handful of Republicans, including Kleckley, voted against the cuts. One Democrat switched sides and voted with Republicans for the slashing.

The plan includes language that the cuts should "cause no impact to critical services," though it doesn't define what is critical. Henry described those services as health care services and public colleges, but Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, said there's no assurance they'd be protected.

Rainwater issued a statement Friday night that said the cuts would damage statewide standardized testing of fourth- and eighth-graders in public schools and medical and rehabilitation services at prisons. Despite Henry's assertions that colleges would be protected, Rainwater said university campuses also face cuts.

Debate over the cuts grew heated, with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, telling lawmakers their constituents should vote them out of office if they don't come up with their own budget plans.

"Did your people send you down here to not do a budget when you've been down here three months, members? I don't think they did," Fannin said, his voice rising.

He described budget cuts in recent years that have caused longer waits at his parish motor vehicle office and his parish health unit. He told lawmakers if they had examples of wasteful spending or places to shrink spending in their districts, they should be specific.

"Bring 'em on. Put your name on them. Let your folks back home know what you stand for," Fannin said.

Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, said the cuts represented what the majority of taxpayers want in Louisiana, less government spending.

"The sky, guys, I don't think is falling," Schroder said. He added, "This is about what you can afford and what the taxpayers who pay the bill can afford. Do we have some tough decisions? Absolutely."

Edwards replied later, "This one doesn't make a tough decision. It tells the commissioner of administration to make it."

Henry, R-Metairie, said he offered his idea after attempts to get guidance from the governor's office on where to make cuts failed.

"We're here now with not as much direction from the Division of Administration as I would have liked," Henry said.

The governor's financial advisers didn't show up in the House as the budget was being debated Friday, and Jindal traveled to Oklahoma for a Republican Party fundraiser.

Online: House Bill 1 can be found at www.legis.la.gov.






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