House lawmakers split over budget maneuver
By MELINDA DESLATTE
BATON ROUGE — Lawmakers in the House split with their leadership Tuesday and refused to accept a procedural move that would have given most of the decision-making on next year’s $24.8 billion budget to the Senate.
House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, and Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, sought to remove $490 million in patchwork funding from the budget and steer clear of triggering a two-thirds vote requirement for House debate on the bill.
The House requires the super-majority vote to debate a spending plan that includes piecemeal financing, like from land sales, legal settlements and other one-time sources of money, to pay for ongoing government programs and services.
Gov. Bobby Jindal included the money in his budget proposal submitted to lawmakers.
Fannin persuaded his committee to strip the money from the 2013-14 budget proposal in hopes of simply getting the spending plans through the House and working with the Senate to return the funding.
But the full House refused Tuesday to accept that change, voting 72-22 against it.
That maneuver keeps the one-time financing in the budget proposal — and means it only takes one-third of House members to stall the spending plans if they are unhappy with ongoing budget negotiations with Kleckley, Fannin and the administration.
“I believe this body should be part of the process in what is appropriated,” said Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, who led the objection.
Democrats and conservative Republicans voted together to block the removal of the piecemeal funding and keep the two-thirds procedural hurdle in place.
Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, said he didn’t want the House to punt the budget proposal to the Senate and tell senators to fix the bill.
Debate on next year’s budget is scheduled for May 9 on the House floor, giving lawmakers a week to try to hammer out an agreement to avoid stalemate.
“We believe it brings everybody back to the table, and now we can work on fixing the problem,” said Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, a leader of the conservative GOP lawmakers nicknamed the “fiscal hawks.”
The fiscal hawks say the patchwork budgeting causes repeated cycles of financial problems, leaving lawmakers to scramble to fill gaps when the dollars fall away.
Supporters of the one-time funding, including the Jindal administration, say without those dollars, public colleges and health care services face unnecessary slashing.
The fiscal hawks are working on an alternate set of budget cut proposals, but they haven’t unveiled any recommendations publicly. They also are negotiating with Democrats on a way to shrink existing tax breaks to drum up new cash. That could run into trouble with Jindal, who has threatened a veto of any bills that raise new tax dollars for the state.
Kleckley said he’s meeting with House members on ideas that could get enough support to pass a budget through the chamber.
“I’m looking forward to hearing back from them on their proposals,” he said.
Jindal took a hands-off approach Tuesday evening to the House maneuvering.
“This is one step of many in the legislative process,” he said. He added, “We need to give the Legislature time and space to review the budget, to make the changes they think are appropriate.”