The Acadiana legislative delegation wasn’t in a self-congratulatory mood Monday as its members reflected on the recent session.
None of the seven area legislators who attended an Acadiana Press Club forum shared Gov. Bobby Jindal’s view, given last week at the close of the session, that the state had successfully navigated its most dire budget crisis in decades.
“We saved today, but tomorrow will be unsafe,” said Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette.
The Legislature on Thursday approved a $24.5 billion budget, finding the money to fill the $1.6 billion hole they faced at the start of the session but only by tapping more than $500 million in one-time funds that will not be available next year.
“It’s kicking the can down the road,” said Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia.
Most members of the Acadiana delegation at Monday’s forum expect a special session early next year to revisit the budget problems.
All four announced gubernatorial candidates have talked of plans to reconvene the Legislature soon after taking office. Jindal, who has presidential ambitions, is term-limited as governor.
“I think we are going to hit the refresh button and start again next year,” said Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks.
Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said he hopes a new administration will be more open to working hand in hand with legislators.
“Rather than telling you what to do, there will be some give and take,” he said.
Landry bemoaned that Jindal’s political ambitions worked more to shape the Legislature’s budget fix this session than any concern of crafting long-term solutions to the state’s recurring budget problems.
He and others criticized Jindal for rigidly adhering to the wishes of conservative Grover Norquist’s influential Americans for Tax Reform, a national anti-tax organization that opposes any net tax increases, meaning new tax revenue should be offset by cuts.
“We are sent to represent Louisiana, not Grover Norquist or any political ambitions someone has,” Landry said.
Jindal’s pledge to follow the Norquist “no tax” policy resulted in what some legislators said was a bizarre addition to the budget — the assessment of an almost $1,600-per-student higher eduction fee that students would not have to pay because the fee would be offset by an equivalent tax credit.
Called SAVE, the program generates no revenue but allows Jindal to say he stuck to the “no tax” pledge because the program creates a $350 million tax credit to offset new taxes and reduced tax rebates in other areas of the budget.
“The SAVE bill should have been called the ‘Save Bobby Jindal bill,’ ” said Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro.
Ortego and Mills said much of the budget shuffling to plug the $1.6 billion hole was done in the final hour of the session, and few legislators likely had time to understand everything they were voting on.
“I know we have to do a better job of due process,” Mills said.
Also participating in Monday’s forum were Rep. Ledricka Johnson Thierry, D-Opelousas, and Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas.
Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.