Both candidates for governor are urging the Joint Legislative Budget Committee to reject Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan for plugging the state’s $500 million deficit this week.
But neither Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards nor Republican U.S. David Vitter has offered up an alternate plan for state lawmakers to consider, and the clock is ticking. The state has 30 days to come up with a solution that rebalances spending with available revenue.
The budget committee meets Friday morning. Before Jindal’s proposals can be put into place, legislators must approve much of the plan, which relies on nearly $150 million in mostly health care-related cuts, $28.2 million from the state’s rainy day fund, sweeps of unused dollars and an infusion of new money from lawsuit settlements. Jindal’s administration has noted that it managed to spare higher education and public safety from the threat of deep cuts.
Vitter and Edwards argue that the proposal is not good enough.
“It’s more of the same,” Vitter said on the steps of the Capitol in Baton Rouge on Thursday. “It doesn’t address any of the core issues that we face as a state fiscally.”
Edwards, during an appearance in Alexandria earlier in the day, said he is troubled that Jindal’s plan doesn’t make cuts on expenses that recur year after year.
“There are practically no cuts to recurring expenditures. There are no additional revenues. So what are we doing? Bobby Jindal is proposing to just punt. To just take this problem and push it into the next year,” Edwards said.
Senate Finance Chairman Jack Donahue agreed that the governor’s plan only gets the state past its current difficulties. “It’s not kicking the can down the road, it’s kicking a 55-gallon drum,” the Mandeville Republican said.
He said he planned to look up the law and consider the timing before deciding whether he thinks the committee, which he co-chairs, should reject or postpone action on Jindal’s proposal.
“I’ll have to think about that some. I don’t know,” Donahue said.
Edwards said he will personally attend the committee hearing on Friday to make his case for the proposal’s rejection. Vitter said he will be on the campaign trail Friday, but he planned to call individual committee members Thursday night.
Jindal, who hasn’t endorsed either of his potential successors, challenged both to release plans of their own.
“Leadership often requires a willingness to make tough choices, but both David Vitter and John Bel Edwards are suggesting they may take the easy way out by raising taxes, even though they won’t quite come out and say it,” Jindal said in a statement. “It’s easy to be a critic, but critics are not leaders. Both candidates have been light on details and should outline their solutions in more detail.”
During his news conference, Vitter implied that he didn’t have a detailed plan because he didn’t have enough information from the Jindal administration.
Commissioner of Administration Stafford Palmieri responded online, saying that her door is “always open to discuss the budget.”
State Treasurer John Kennedy, a frequent Jindal critic who has endorsed Vitter and joined him at his news conference, said that Jindal’s plan borrows from next year’s budget.
“The good news is we haven’t cut higher education. The bad news is the next governor’s screwed,” Kennedy said. “This is not helping. It’s not solving the problem.”
Vitter said, if elected, then he will ask Jindal to appoint Bill Fenstermaker, a Lafayette businessman who has donated to his and Jindal’s campaigns, as commissioner of the Division of Administration. “That would give us some needed extra time,” he said.
Fenstermaker is chairman of the IberiaBank Corp. board and CEO of CH Fenstermaker and Associations, a company that has contracts with the state including one for $3 million for “engineering services for coastal protection and restoration projects.”
He currently serves on the state Board of Regents — a position to which he was appointed by Jindal.
Fenstermaker couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.
Edwards campaign has not identified who would serve as his commissioner of administration, if elected.
“Rep. Edwards is solely focused on preventing a Jindal third term. That means he’ll consider roles and appointments after he wins on Saturday,” his campaign spokeswoman Mary-Patricia Wray said.
Edwards said he recommends the Legislature handle the budget deficit in a special session.
“I think this Legislature ought to step up, become independent and actually resolve this issue,” Edwards said. “You don’t need that many days to address these issues.”