‘Fiscal hawks’ seek changes to budget process 

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON –- A group of conservative legislators, called the “fiscal hawks,” banded together to protest the use of one-time money to pay recurring expenses. These were some of the members meeting on the House floor before a May 2012 vote that stalled consideration of the state’s budget bill. Clockwise from center, state Reps. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette,  Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles,  Lance Harris, R-Alexandria,  Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge,  Raymond Garofalo Jr., R-Chalmette, Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia,  John Schroder, R-Covington,  Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette,  Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge, Tony Ligi, R-Metairie, who has since resigned, and  Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON –- A group of conservative legislators, called the “fiscal hawks,” banded together to protest the use of one-time money to pay recurring expenses. These were some of the members meeting on the House floor before a May 2012 vote that stalled consideration of the state’s budget bill. Clockwise from center, state Reps. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, Raymond Garofalo Jr., R-Chalmette, Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, John Schroder, R-Covington, Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge, Tony Ligi, R-Metairie, who has since resigned, and Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville.

A faction of legislators wants Louisiana voters to change the way state government decides how to spend money on hospitals, roads and other public expenses.

The so-called “fiscal hawks” released the broad outlines of a legislative package Tuesday, months after sparring with Gov. Bobby Jindal in last year’s legislative session.

Included in the package are several constitutional amendments that would need the support of two-thirds of the Legislature as well as a vote of the people.

“We’re going to get heard. The question is can we get passed,” said state Rep. Brett Geymann, leader of the Budget Reform Campaign.

Dubbed the fiscal hawks after they stalled the budget process last year, the campaign aims to make it harder to stitch together the state budget with a patchwork approach that relies on state revenue, uncertainties such as land sales and money left over in accounts scattered across state government.

The campaign wants to put an emphasis on higher education, health care and critical services before funding miscellaneous expenses.

The campaign, composed of roughly 28, mostly Republican, Louisiana House members, said the need for change is evident given back-to-back years of mid-year budget cuts.

Their ideas include:

  • Only allowing revenue recognized by the Revenue Estimating Conference to be included in the budget.
  • Creating a five-day window between the end of session and the final passage of the budget.
  • Building an extra hurdle in the budget process when funding for higher education and health care is proposed at a lower level than the previous year.

Jindal opposed the hawks last year when he claimed their objections over the budget’s structure threatened to deprive developmentally challenged children of services. In the end, the governor won the battle, gaining passage of a cobbled-together budget. The hawks went home and regrouped. They set up a website, established a political action committee and toured the state.

Geymann, R-Lake Charles, said he recently sat down with Paul Rainwater, the governor’s chief of staff, to explain the package.

The intent, Geymann said, is not to criticize the governor’s handling of the state operating budget. The budget process needs to be changed after decades of building it on a foundation of sand, he said.

State Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, said core reforms are needed if the Legislature goes along with the governor’s push to eliminate the state personal income and corporate taxes.

“It is critical that we fix the way we are putting together our budget before we make major changes in how we take in revenue. We keep pouring water into our bucket year after year, but it’s clear now that there is a hole in our bucket,” he said.

The governor said in a prepared statement that he will look at the bills.

“Our office has had good discussions with representatives Geymann and Harris concerning their ideas for the budget process. We will also continue to meet with every member of the Legislature regarding legislation for the upcoming session,” Jindal said.

Last year, Geymann pushed to provide another layer of oversight in the budget process and to ensure money is not spent on nongovernmental organizations to the detriment of higher education and health care. He also sought to eliminate the practice of using nonrecurring money for recurring expenses.

His bills were not offered a Louisiana House Appropriations Committee hearing until the session was nearing its end. At that point, rules would need to have been suspended for the bills to make their way to the Senate and back to the House.

As week after week passed without a committee hearing on his bills, Geymann taped the committee agenda devoid of his legislation to his microphone on the House floor in a silent protest of being ignored.

He said he is more confident going into the session that starts April 8 after quietly meeting with stakeholders and gathering support.

“The outside pressure will help us some this year,” Geymann predicted.