Louisiana House panel's budget cuts not expected to last

04 30, 2013 by The Town Talk

The House Appropriations committee Monday stripped almost $500 million from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget for next fiscal year but even Rep. Jim Fannin, chairman of the committee and author of the amendment stripping the funds, doubts it will stay that way.

The administration budget contained nonrecurring funds and what some lawmakers called “contingencies,” because the funding depends on the sale of property, sweeping money from funds in the state treasury and the state receiving other payments to balance next year's $24 billion budget.

Removal of nearly $500 million from the budget would mean deep cuts in health care and higher education funding if they become final. But Fannin said the move is only to get House Bill 1 through the House of Representatives and he wants to find a better way to handle reductions.

But he expects that whatever the House does, the Senate to restore the funds. “I’m going to work with everyone between now and the floor to find something better,” Fannin said

A House rule, known as “the Geymann Rule,” named after its author, Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, limits the amount of “one-time money” that can be in the state budget and it takes a two-thirds vote to go over that amount.

Geymann, one of the members who voted against passing HB1 in the 15-9 vote that got it out of committee, said Fannin’s amendment was “just a way to get around the rule. When it comes back from the Senate, we’ll be short of time” and members will be pushed to approve it.

Because next fiscal year’s proposed budget is smaller than the current one, it can contain up to $199 million in nonrecurring funds without the Geymann Rule being activated and only a majority vote would be needed to pass it. Any more than $199 million would take a two-thirds vote.

Geymann said the Revenue Estimating Conference is expected to recognize another $100 million in available revenue, so the Senate version could be $300 million larger than it currently is without the rule kicking in this year.

He and a group of lawmakers referred to as the “Fiscal Hawks” and some now referred to as “hummingbirds” have been working on an alternative spending plan that he said would be a “real solution to the state’s problems.

“We need to move out from the addition we have of cobbling a bill with one-time money,” he said.

Fannin’s plan and the expected addition of $100 in available spending money “takes away some of our leverage,” Geymann said. “It’s not going to keep us from presenting our alternative plan.”

Fannin’s amendment spreads the almost $500 million cut to be about $20 million among state agencies and departments that receive state general funds. Some, like the Departments of Wildlife and Fisheries and Department of Insurance and the Public Service Commission, receive no state funds and operate on self-generated revenues.

During the debate, Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, got the committee to place most of the “contingency” money in the governor’s budget and those of his Division of Administration and Department of Economic Development. The remainder would be spread around.

As originally drafted, almost all of the contingency funds were in higher education.

“We asked in previous testimony to share the risk. We don’t want it all,” said Jim Purcell, commissioner of higher education.

Several amendments were adopted to HB1 that supplied funding for programs by eliminating funding for unfilled positions in numerous state agencies, including higher education.

Among those amendments were:

• Rep. James Armes, D-Leesville, restoring $28 million to higher education.

• Rep. Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas, creating 25 New Opportunities Waiver slots with $637,000.

• Rep. Charles “Bubba” Chaney, R-Rayville, restoring $250,000 to the Louisiana Assistive Technology Access Network that allows people with disabilities to be cared for at home.

But since all of the items were funded with one-time money, Fannin’s amendment stripped them.

They could be restored in the Senate.

Prior to adopting the amended budget plan, the committee adopted several amendments to HB452, legislation that stripped money considered excess in numerous funds in the state treasury. HB452 made up some of the one-time funds in the budget.

Among the amendments were ones that: restored the Senior Rx Plan so counselors could help seniors secure free or reduced price drugs; eliminated an administration plan to take $100 million from the New Orleans convention center; restored funding to process a backlog of concealed handgun applications; restored state parks maintenance funds; and several other smaller amounts.

Despite urging from the Louisiana MidContinent Oil and Gas Association, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the committee did not vote to prevent stripping money from the “Rigs to Reefs” program.