Alternative budget plan in jeopardy

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- From left, State Rep. Neil C. Abramson, D-New Orleans; state Rep. James Morris, R-Oil City; and state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, speak on the side of the House floor Tuesday at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge. Geymann is leading efforts to craft a compromise to the governor's budget.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- From left, State Rep. Neil C. Abramson, D-New Orleans; state Rep. James Morris, R-Oil City; and state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, speak on the side of the House floor Tuesday at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge. Geymann is leading efforts to craft a compromise to the governor's budget.

Cracks appeared among House Republicans on Tuesday as Gov. Bobby Jindal and business groups worked furiously against an alternative state spending plan.

State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, said some party members are having trouble committing to a plan that would generate $329 million for the state budget by reducing tax breaks.

The plan also would cut state government spending by more than $100 million.

The biggest hurdle is a 15 percent cut to tax breaks that day care providers, dairy farmers, business owners and others use to reduce their state tax bills. The reduction would remain in place until 2016.

Republicans and Democrats are trying to craft an alternative to the governor’s $24.7 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. At issue is how to replace expected property sales, legal settlements and other one-time dollars the governor wants to use for the state’s public colleges and universities.

The negotiations are legislators’ opportunity to show independence through a state budget that funds health care, higher education and other expenses. Many legislators are exasperated with the governor’s continued reliance on one-time dollars for expenses that must be met year after year. With a short session, time is evaporating for an alternative plan to solidify.

Democrats described themselves as solid on accepting spending cuts. Republicans appeared to be on shakier ground after two days of public and behind-the-scenes assaults by the governor and the state’s largest business lobbying group.

“I would say it’s pain on both sides, but, yeah, we’re obviously having more pain than they are,” Geymann said, adding that he is not panicking yet.

For the second day in a row, the governor assembled lobbyists and industry leaders for a news conference to accuse legislators of considering a massive tax increase through possible reductions in tax breaks.

“We found out that the plan is a $1.3 billion tax increase over four years. Let us be clear, this is a job killer ... This is exactly the worst thing Louisiana can do,” Jindal said.

Will French, co-founder and president of Film Production Capital, said the film and entertainment industry generates $1.1 billion in annual business spending for the state. “To blindly and uniformly cut 15 percent from every major tax credit program is to kill the film industry in one fatal death blow,” he said.

As the governor and others spoke, lobbyists were downstairs sending handwritten notes to legislators preparing to convene in the House.

A procedural move involving legislation to be used as vehicles for the alternative plan was kicked to another day as Republicans worked on their differences.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry sent notes to legislators advising against taking the step necessary to bring the bills to a floor debate.

“In their current form, they significantly raise business taxes,” wrote LABI, the state’s largest business lobbying group.

State Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, angrily denounced the notes as lies after stepping outside the House chamber to talk to a lobbyist.

Montoucet accused LABI of playing word games.

“(Republicans) are getting beat up pretty bad by a lot of lies,” he said.

The night before, state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, sent his colleagues an open letter outlining opposition to the governor’s plan to use one-time money as well as discomfort with what he characterized as tax increases in the alternative plan.

Along with Geymann, Seabaugh was among a faction of House Republicans called the “fiscal hawks” who set out to change the budget crafting process.

“If it includes tax increases, I can’t support it. But I’m going to go down there and try to work with them,” Seabaugh said before getting in the line for the elevator that would take him to a Republican caucus meeting.

Another Republican, state Rep. Jeff Thompson, of Bossier City, said he still is studying the plan that started circulating in earnest Monday night.

Thompson’s words echoed what House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said an hour earlier when asked what he thought about the alternative budget.

Amid splintering support, other Republican leaders held out hope for a compromise.

“I’m confident we can work through this,” Geymann aid.

House Republican leader Lance Harris, of Alexandria, downplayed the differences, saying legislators just want to be sure about the path they are taking.

“What I’m trying to do is educate everybody so they can make the right vote,” Harris said.