The proposed restructuring of the state operating budget in the wake of dips in revenue projections sparked squabbling at the State Capitol on Tuesday.
In the end, the Louisiana House Committee on Appropriations agreed to make cuts to higher education and health care, among other changes.
But that agreement only came after the panel failed to reach a resolution in the morning and took a break from the issue to allow the full House to convene and work through its calendar. Seven hours later, the committee returned to its basement meeting room and late Tuesday voted 22-2 in favor of advancing House Bill 1, the main budget bill, to the House floor.
House Bill 822, which is necessary to make the numbers in HB1 work, advanced on an identical vote.
Some legislators warned the Jindal administration that the dispute is not resolved.
“Mr. Administration and folks, we’ve got some work to do,” state Rep. John Schroder said at the end of a contentious debate.
At issue are plans to use more than $300 million in what is known as one-time money to balance the roughly $25 billion state spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
One-time money is funding that likely will only materialize once.
Some members of the House Appropriations Committee voiced frustration with the Jindal administration for embracing the use of the one-time money rather than making reductions to state government.
“I’ve hit my max,” Schroder told Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater and other key Jindal administration budget aides. The spending plans need to be reworked because of a drop in state revenue projections.
Those drops are leading to proposals to cut money for higher education and health care and to pull dollars from funds set up for artificial reefs, economic development projects and other issues.
During hours of committee debate, significant changes were made to the budget bills, including:
“Very few people will get everything they want in this bill,” said state Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro and the committee’s chairman, of HB1.
Overshadowing the proposed reductions was a fight over the advancement of the budget bills.
Fannin struggled to get HB1 advanced to the House floor. The bill failed in an initial vote to move it from committee to the full House.
State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, said state officials are addicted to one-time money when they should be reducing the size of state government.
“If you want to quit digging the hole, we have to lay the shovel down,” Geymann said.
Republicans, with a few Democrats tossed into the mix, blocked HB1. The committee then turned to HB822, which would take money from various funds across state government to balance next year’s budget. In what is known as a sweep, the state would use money from land sales, the Legislature’s technology fund and other sources to pay for state services such as health care.
Complaints quickly arose.
“You have to come to the reality sooner or later that maybe we can’t afford the government we grew,” said state Rep. John A. “Johnny” Berthelot, R-Gonzales.
Schroder, R-Covington, said the economy does not appear to be getting better.
He said the Jindal administration is not keeping its promise to wean the state off one-time money.
“You said we were going to get out of this habit three years ago,” Schroder said.
Rainwater, who is Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief budget aide, said the administration does not like using one-time money or sweeping funds any more than anyone else does.
He said the money has to be used to prevent drastic cuts to health care and higher education.
“You can’t take a chainsaw and cut across the table,” Rainwater said.
He said state government has to be whittled down in a careful approach.
In the end, the committee grudgingly agreed to advance the bills.
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