Use of one-time funds center of debate
Many legislators in the House are dismissing the Jindal administration’s warnings that key dollars need to stay in the state spending plan to protect health care and higher education from drastic cuts.
House Bill 1, the proposed $25 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, is scheduled to be debated Thursday on the House floor, where high hurdles await.
At issue is a largely philosophical disagreement over the use of one-time money to balance the state budget during difficult financial times. Money from the sale of a hospital and other sources would be used to patch together a budget that pays for schools and prisons.
For the public, the dispute is significant because the alternative to using the one-time money could be significant cuts to hospitals, colleges and other state services.
State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, thinks relying on money that is unlikely to materialize more than once is an irresponsible way to manage state government.
He said cuts can be made without crippling higher education and health care.
“That’s impossible,” said Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, the governor’s chief budget aide.
Rainwater is warning legislators that hospitals would close and college funding would be slashed if they prevail in purging more than $300 million in one-time money from the proposed budget.
Some legislators believe the Jindal administration is exaggerating. “I find there are a lot of melodramatic characters in their group,” said state Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, referring to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s aides.
Geymann is not certain exactly where he would make further reductions. He said he still is studying the issue with the help of House staff.
State Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, said he shares the concerns about the budget’s reliance on one-time money.
Foil said the Legislature may just have to live with it this year and look for long-term solutions.
“I don’t want to cut higher ed any further,” Foil said.
Relatively new rules mean the Legislative Fiscal Office will have to determine exactly how much one-time money is being used to balance the budget. The use of one-time money will require a two-thirds vote for the House to consider the budget.
State Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro and the budget bill’s sponsor, said he is working with legislators who want to remove the nonrecurring dollars.
Fannin’s tactic is to show them where the reductions would fall.
“We will have to deal with the one-time money and let folks know where cuts would be,” he said.
Another wrinkle is the need to eliminate a shortfall in the remaining weeks of the current fiscal year.
Some House members considered using the state’s “rainy day” fund to resolve the shortfall. Formally called the Budget Stabilization Fund, the rainy day fund is designed to tide the state over during difficult budget times.
Fannin said he does not think he can get the necessary votes to use the rainy day fund.
The alternative, other than making reductions, is to kick the problem to next fiscal year, he said.
Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. came to the State Capitol on Thursday armed with a sheet of paper outlining the Baton Rouge campus’ precarious financial predicament.
Mason said he has a “heightened concern” about a faction of legislators pushing for further reductions in state government spending in the budget year that begins July 1. Those reductions could fall heavily on higher education and health care.
He said he wants to make sure legislators understand that the Baton Rouge campus already is struggling and added cuts would be crippling. The notion of Southern being able to do more with even less is unrealistic, he said.
“Some senators believe what they’re doing is motivational ... I want to make sure they realize the reality of the situation,” Mason said.