The Louisiana House voted 63-28 Friday in favor of advancing a dramatically revamped $25 billion state spending plan that could result in state workers losing two days of pay.
Squabbling over Gov. Bobby Jindal’s bid to balance the budget with one-time money led to a 24-hour stalemate over House Bill 1, the state operating budget for the fiscal year that ends July 1.
The dispute ended when Republicans bucked the GOP governor and purged money that likely will only materialize once.
Instead of using one-time dollars, the Jindal administration now would be directed to choose from a menu of options for cutting $268 million from a budget that funds hospitals, colleges and other state services. The options include sending state employees home without pay for two days, reducing overtime and cutting vacant positions along with other reductions across state government.
“I didn’t like the budget when we started. I like it even less now,” said state Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro and the budget bill’s sponsor.
The passage of the amendment creating the makeover of the legislation drew praise from U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy.
“This is a major step forward for fiscal responsibility. I urge the governor and the state senate to follow this really positive lead,” Vitter said in a prepared statement.
Kennedy said the amendment would save taxpayers money by reducing state consulting contracts and vacant state government positions.
From the governor, who found himself in the odd position of being more aligned with Democrats than fellow Republicans, there was only public silence. For at least part of the daylong debate Friday, Jindal was out of town or out of state. The governor helped with a dedication in New Orleans before flying to Oklahoma to raise money for that state’s Republican Party. The day before, with the House deadlocked on the budget, the governor flew to Alabama for another party fundraiser. He made no public comments.
It took the House two days to pass the bill, which now moves to the state Senate.
On Friday, when the House finally reached a resolution that opposed the governor’s approach to the budget, the Jindal administration was noticeably absent from the chamber’s sidelines.
The governor’s chief budget aide, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, said in a statement afterward that the amended spending plan would result in massive cuts to higher education and health care, jeopardize the processing of Medicaid payments and affect student achievement testing. He said employee furloughs equate “to replacing one source of one-time revenue with another.”
The question now is whether the state Senate will work with the Jindal administration to unravel the House’s handiwork.
Fannin reacted angrily to the amendment by state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-New Orleans, and state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, to purge the one-time money from the legislation.
Fannin is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Henry is the vice chairman.
Fannin wanted the House to agree to use one-time money to get the state through difficult financial times. Henry argued that state government needs to live within its means instead of relying on money from building sales and other one-time money sources to patch together the budget.
“We cannot continue to spend money that we do not have,” Henry said.
Fannin said legislators would be abdicating their authority to craft a state budget by directing the Jindal administration to make the necessary cuts.
He said voting in favor of the amendment could result in legislators being ousted from office by voters in a few years.
“Did your people send you down here to not do a budget when you’ve been down here three months? I don’t think they did,” Fannin said.
Some legislators objected to Fannin’s tone.
“I don’t mind a challenge, but to scold me for what I stand for ... give me a break,” said state Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington.
State Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, also took the floor to object. “I’m about tired of people threatening my votes,” she said.
The House voted 51-48 in favor of the amendment to strip one-time money, with eight Republican committee chairmen aligning against the governor on the issue.
With his budget drastically rewritten, Fannin told the House he was at a loss to explain the legislation.
“I can’t do my job. I don’t have any direction to give you … I can’t help you,” he said.
The Louisiana House still went through the budget, state agency by state agency. But Fannin warned legislators that he could not answer questions about individual agencies’ spending proposals.
An effort to reinstate funding for the state Inspector General’s Office failed. Now that money would be spent on community services for the developmentally disabled.
State Rep. Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas, drew applause when she successfully stripped one of the options from the menu of reductions that Republicans created for the Jindal administration.
Thierry said it would not make sense for the state to avoid paying judgments because interest would accumulate.
By far, the most dramatic amendment among a slate of proposed changes was the one to remove one-time money from the budget.
At the end of the night, state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, lamented what happened.
“I think we could have done this better,” he said.
The night ended with more than a dozen legislators swarming the House clerk to change their “nay” votes on an amendment by Jones. The amendment had nothing to do with budget principles. Instead, legislators did not want to be on record as voting against carving out money for disabled veterans.
Voting FOR stripping one-time money from the budget (51) : State Reps. Adams, Barras, Berthelot, S. Bishop, Broadwater, Burford, T. Burns, Carmody, Carter, Champagne, Connick, Danahay, Dove, Foil, Garofalo, Geymann, Greene, Guinn, Harris, Harrison, Havard, Henry, Hensgens, Hodges, Hollis, Howard, Huval, Lambert, N. Landry, Leopold, Ligi, Lopinto, Lorusso, Mack, Miller, Jay Morris, Jim Morris, Pearson, Ponti, Pope, Pugh, Pylant, Richard, Robideaux, Schexnayder, Schroder, Seabaugh, Simon, Talbot, Thompson and Whitney.
Voting AGAINST the amendment to HB1 (49): Speaker Kleckley and state Reps. Anders, Armes, Arnold, Badon, Barrow, Billiot, W. Bishop, Brossett, Brown, H. Burns, Burrell, Chaney, Cox, Dixon, Edwards, Fannin, Franklin, Gaines, Gisclair, Guillory, Hazel, Hill, Hoffmann, Honore, Hunter, G. Jackson, K. Jackson, James, Jefferson, Johnson, Jones, T. Landry, LeBas, Leger, Montoucet, Moreno, Norton, Ortego, Pierre, Price, Reynolds, Ritchie, Shadoin, St. Germain, Thibaut, Thierry, P. Williams and Willmott.
Not Voting (5): State Reps. Abramson, Cromer, Richardson, Smith and A. Williams.