Louisiana “Fiscal Hawks” Criticize Jindal’s Budget Practices, Look To Reassert Lawmaker Role In Budget Process
BATON ROUGE, La. (KPEL) -- To some they are champions for the state's constitution and for getting Louisiana's financial house in order. To others they are a colossal headache.
For Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, they have proven to be a thorn in his side that have forced him at times to form coalitions with state Democrats to get his budgets passed.
The budget reformers in the state legislature, characterized by many in the media as the "fiscal hawks," have arguably been successful in getting their point across, hurling criticism at Jindal for his use of one-time money to fund holes in his budgets.
During the 2012 legislative session, the group succeeded in stripping much of that money from the governor's proposed budget. The Senate later restored the money, and Jindal had to rely on Democrats to get final passage, but not before the hawks made their point: they wanted to be involved and to have a say.
"[W]e pretty much eliminated ourselves from the process and the policy of creating a budget," said state Rep. John Schroder, a Republican serving district 77. "We have to engage. We have to take very seriously the power that we have."
The fiscal hawks are once again up in arms, disappointed that Jindal's latest budget contains the same use of one-time money they have fought against, going so far as to call the practice unconstitutional and asking a state judge to offer an opinion on the matter.
The use of such nonrecurring funds, Schroder said, is responsible for the incessant mid-year and end-of-year budget shortfalls that have plagued the state for the last several years, forcing sharp cuts to already slashed budgets, usually after programs have already spent much of the money allocated to them and forcing them to figure out how to make up the difference.
"They're supposed to send a balanced budget without any contingencies," Schroder said. "They continue to do it."
It's the ultimate kicking the can down the road.
Despite the numerous reports on how well the state's economy is doing, despite Louisiana's continual climb up the ladder of several major business indexes, Schroder said such positive news is not showing up on the revenue side of the ledger. Is Jindal placing too much stock on these reports? Schroder insisted he must be.
"In my world, it's a plus or minus, it's either black or red," Schroder said. "We're hearing all the positives coming out of Baton Rouge, and not to say that what they're saying is negative--it is positive--but it's not growing fast enough to where government is affordable.
"Somehow, we're either painting too rosy of a picture, or there's a whole lot of negatives out there that we're not sharing with the public, and quite frankly, I'd rather just lay all the marbles on the table. I'd rather be up front, tell everyone what we're dealing with, and not...kick the can...down the road."
The process of repairing the state's budget woes will not be easy, Schroder said, but it must begin with the legislature reasserting it's role in the process, he said. Especially after the legislative session has convened for the year, Schroder said it's important that lawmakers, even though part-time as they are, be given a "seat at the table" instead of allowing the governor to make mid-year or end-of-year cuts to the budget himself.
"What we're trying to do is inject ourselves into that decision-making, Schroder said. "It won't set policy on what gets cut or who gets cut. It would give us a seat at the table, which I think that's why we got elected."
As far as presenting their own budget, Schroder said it won't happen this year, but it is something that has been discussed for the future. The biggest obstacle, he said, is getting accurate information from the various departments that make up state government.
Author's note: We reached out to Gov. Bobby Jindal's office for comment on this story, but our inquiries were ignored.