BY MICHELLE MILLHOLLON
Capitol news bureau
August 04, 2012
Weeks after skirmishing with Gov. Bobby Jindal over the state budget, the so-called fiscal hawks once again are circling the State Capitol.
A website is up, a political action committee formed and a meeting schedule is in the works.
“Our goal is to work with (Jindal’s) administration, if they will have us. We have the burden to get leadership on board,” state Rep. Brett Geymann said Thursday.
Geymann, R-Lake Charles, led efforts to form the Budget Reform Coalition, which is the next chapter in the hawks’ battle to change the underpinnings of the state budget.
At issue is a patchwork approach to the budget that funds hospitals, colleges and other public services. Historically, especially during recent lean times, the state used one-time, or nonrecurring, money to pay expenses that must be met year after year. The state might grab dollars paid into a fund or sell property to fill gaps in needed funding rather than make cuts.
This year, a group of Louisiana House Republicans, fashioning themselves with the name “fiscal hawks,” balked and fought to purge one-time money from the state budget.
Their initial efforts were successful and tied up budget debate for two days in the Louisiana House. However, their numbers and support quickly dwindled amid opposition from the governor and Democrats. The one-time money was put back into the budget over the hawks’ protests.
In the end, Jindal largely got the budget he wanted. The fiscal hawks returned home to their districts and quietly regrouped.
The hawks resurfaced last month with the organization of a coalition, the formation of a political action committee, or PAC, and promises of a statewide listening tour.
The coalition currently numbers one “no party” and 26 Republican House members. The coalition is not near the size the fiscal hawks were when they successfully purged the one-time money from the $25.6 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year that started July 1.
“It’s new. We haven’t even had a chance to visit with all of the (legislators) yet. I would argue that some of the ones who haven’t joined in yet have interest,” Geymann said.
The group’s goals are to recruit community leaders, retain experts, communicate with opinion leaders and build legislative majorities by the time the next session starts in March.
State Rep. Tony Ligi, a coalition member, said a number of questions need to be answered, including what services the state should provide and what appropriate funding levels are.
He said House Bill 1, the main budget legislation, is a mammoth, yet nonspecific, document that is daunting to tackle within the short span of a session.
“When we get that HB1, it’s such a general document. We’re moving so fast,” said Ligi, R-Metairie.
Fueling the coalition’s efforts are the recent series of back-to-back cuts during the course of the state fiscal year when revenue projections failed to hit their targets.
State Rep. Lance Harris, another coalition member, blames a reliance on one-time money for contributing to the midyear budget cuts. He said dollars failed to materialize because they were uncertain when they were put into the budget. “Hopefully, the public is going to be involved and demand a responsible budget next year,” he said.
To that end, Geymann asked each coalition member to contribute a certain amount of money. He would not say how much, although the information eventually will become public when the PAC’s financial records are filed with the state.
Building a website takes money, he said. Consultants and financial experts may need to be hired to help the coalition navigate the complicated state budget structure, Geymann said.
The website — http://www.labudgetreform.com — contains news articles, a list of members and tabs for blogs, videos, photos and events.
Geymann said he is setting up meetings with legislators as part of a listening tour. Eventually, Geymann said, the coalition might hold town hall-style meetings and coordinate with chambers of commerce.
He said he hopes the coalition grows beyond its House Republican roots to include senators and Democrats.
By next session, Geymann and others said, they hope to have a budget solution in hand.
How receptive Jindal would be to that delivery is unclear. Geymann’s first effort at suggesting spending cuts resulted in dire predictions from the administration earlier this year on developmentally challenged children losing services.
Harris, R-Alexandria, said he has not talked to the governor either. However, he made clear that he does not blame Jindal for the practice of relying on one-time dollars.
“I don’t think it’s one person, one governor ... that is the problem,” Harris said. “It’s institutional and it goes back years.”