Bills promoted by a faction of House Republicans advanced Monday despite concerns that the legislation could throttle the state budget process.
The package was filed in response to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s handling of a state spending plan that funds health care, education and other public services.
Faced with slumping state revenue, the governor has cut health-care spending, replaced state dollars with college tuition increases and scraped together money from property sales, settlements and funds scattered across state government.
A group of self-described conservatives nicknamed the “fiscal hawks” want a different approach.
“I’m trying to empower the Legislature,” state Rep. Lance Harris told the House Appropriations Committee on Monday.
At issue are the mechanics of how the state budget is built. The hawks want to expand the buckets of funding that the Revenue Estimating Conference considers when predicting how much state revenue can be budgeted for spending.
The group also wants to split the budget when health care and higher education funding drops from year to year, giving legislators a separate list of what can be cut versus what cannot be cut because of legal restrictions.
Harris, R-Alexandria, filed House Bill 437 to broaden the Revenue Estimating Conference oversight from roughly 40 revenue sources to include several hundred dedicated funds. Dollars from the dedicated funds — such as an account set up for the creation of artificial reefs — commonly are used to patch holes in the budget even though the conference never examines whether the funds hold the amount of money expected to be used.
The hawks contend shortfalls in the amount of money the governor expected a fund to hold led to budget cuts.
The Jindal administration blames back-to-back years of budget cuts on federal reductions and missed projections.
“We need a budget that says one plus one equals two,” Harris said. “We need to have real hard numbers.”
Officials with the Legislative Fiscal office, which forecasts state revenue, sparked concerns by raising doubts about the office’s capability to rigorously make predictions on scores more funds.
The committee advanced the legislation anyway, turning to a proposed constitutional amendment that would split the budget when funding for higher education and health care drops.
“The essence of the bill is transparency and allowing us as a Legislature to better determine how we should spend our money,” said House Bill 434’s sponsor, state Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe.
House Bill 620, handled by state Rep. Gene Reynolds, has a similar goal.
State Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, questioned what would happen if one piece of the budget advances but not the other.
Reynolds, D-Dubberly, admitted he was unsure, saying that detail may need to be addressed.
HB437, 434 and 620 now move to the full House for consideration.