Leger: Legislature needs to do a lot more work on the budget

While tempting, legislators should stop patting themselves on the back for showing independence and bipartisanship during the just-ended 2013 legislation session, Louisiana House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger III said Monday.

“While there was a lot of fanfare for how special it was, we really came together just to get by,” Leger said, adding that lawmakers made no significant advances in the budget-writing process.

“I think we kicked the can down the road on the budget,” Leger told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

Leger said adoption of a tax amnesty program to generate additional state revenue “doesn’t fix the root problem.” He compared it to “emergency power.”

“I’m glad the state did it” because it helped fund health care and provide extra funds for state colleges and universities, Leger said.

He said getting rid of the Jindal administration’s use of one-time money to fund higher education was a plus as was borrowing money for technical college improvements.

Leger said it would take legislators continuing to work together across party lines to tackle the big issues that remain, such as stable funding sources for health care and higher education and steps to grow the state’s economy.

“Are we going to fall back into our old ways or will there be a renewed commitment to bipartisanship and moderate policies ... against extremism?” Leger said.

Leger said the majority of Louisiana residents are moderates.

“Rather than looking blue or red we should be looking at how purple we are as a state” as decisions are made, Leger said. “We need to figure out a way to work together and then fight over who gets credit for it later.”

Leger said legislators did a couple of things that were “not necessarily bad, not necessarily good.”

He mentioned passage of a proposition that would stabilize hospital Medicaid financing, but eliminate more budget flexibility and the upgrading technical schools to train people for in-demand jobs which committed more state borrowing.

Legislators “missed out this session” by not endorsing Medicaid expansion called for in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, called Obamacare, Leger said. Leger said the state is depriving health insurance to about 400,000 working poor and their children, increasing costs for private insurance holders and failing to help small business owners.

“It’s not an issue that should go away,” Leger said.

Leger said the state Department of Health and Hospitals should submit a waiver to the federal government. “We have not even asked them for permission to devise our own program. I think it’s irresponsible,” Leger said.