Kleckley: Budget deal near

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- State Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, second from left, and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, RLake Charles, speak Thursday following his announcement that a compromise is near after Republicans and Democrats spent the last several nights working on a way to craft the $24.7 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- State Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, second from left, and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, RLake Charles, speak Thursday following his announcement that a compromise is near after Republicans and Democrats spent the last several nights working on a way to craft the $24.7 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley told legislators Thursday that they have “a clear, shining moment” to flex their independence through the crafting of the state budget.

Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said a state spending plan should materialize in the next few days to resolve political division in the chamber.

“Let’s sit tight. Let’s give this plan an opportunity for everybody to look at (it) before you make a decision,” Kleckley said.

In the short speech on the Louisiana House floor, Kleckley garnered a standing ovation by throwing his support to legislators who want to break with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposal for funding health care, higher education and other public services.

Legislators involved in putting together the new plan said it would include shedding tax exemptions, making spending cuts and revamping the budget-making process. The plan would need enough support to overturn the governor’s possible veto of eliminating tax exemptions that reduce state government revenue.

One idea is to lower the amount of money that businesses are allowed to pocket from state sales taxes. The dollars, called vendors’ compensation, reward the businesses for collecting the money on the state’s behalf.

“We’re getting ready to make some tough votes, and we’re all willing to do that,” said state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles.

Republicans and Democrats spent the last several nights working on another way to craft the $24.7 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. They likely will work through the weekend in order to finalize a plan.

Republicans — driven by a self-described conservative faction known as the fiscal hawks — are unhappy that the governor wants to rely on dollars from expected property sales, legal settlements and a refinancing to pay for expenses that must be met year after year.

The governor counters that the federal government made sharp spending cuts to the Medicaid program, leaving him with a huge gap to fill.

Democrats want to fatten the state’s purses by eliminating some of the tax breaks that divert revenue from the treasury.

The governor’s reliance on one-time money and his threat to veto tax break eliminations not used as an offset for other tax cuts brought the two parties together.

Kleckley and the state budget bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jim Fannin, at first fought to keep the one-time dollars in the budget through complicated maneuvering that would have purged them in the House and then restored one-time dollars in the Senate.

The ploy was designed to get around a House rule that makes it difficult to pass a budget that uses one-time dollars for recurring expenses.

A few legislators loyal to Fannin or with leadership roles on the line aligned themselves with him. But the support is not enough to overcome a likely stall in budget debate on the House floor.

The governor also sparked discontent by proposing cuts to battered women’s shelters, cancer screenings and senior centers. He later reversed that decision but only after members of the public came to the State Capitol and scolded legislators.

Fannin, D-Jonesboro, said Thursday that he is giving legislators space to work on their alternative proposal. He said he never was wedded to the governor’s approach.

Depending on what legislators produce, he said he might support the alternative plan.

“Why would I oppose something that everybody’s for?” Fannin asked.

Kleckley said a clearly defined plan will be in place by Monday at the latest.

State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, said he expects a total revamp of what the governor proposed.

“It’s great the House decided to make a real effort at getting the budget done in conjunction with reforming the entire budget process,” he said.

State Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe and chairwoman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, said she realizes that spending cuts need to be made.

“Our concern was bringing in revenue and making cuts where most feasible,” she said.

Not everyone is a fan of the political camaraderie.

“Probable vote in House on Monday for MASSIVE TAX increase led by so called ‘Conservative Fiscal Hawk’ Republicans and the Black Caucus!!!” Bob Reid, events coordinator for the Tea Party of Louisiana, emailed Thursday in an urgent action alert.

Reid encouraged tea party members to descend upon the State Capitol on Monday, when the House Committee on Ways and Means is scheduled to meet on a slate of tax proposals. Bills on the agenda include a reduction in motion picture industry tax credits.

Stephen Moret, secretary of the state Department of Economic Development, sent out unsolicited comments, in which he said “simple incentive caps or across-the-board reductions in incentive programs would have a chilling effect on our state’s economic development prospects while raising tax burdens on small businesses.”