If lawmakers are weary of the five years of budget crises under Gov. Bobby Jindal,there is a danger in overreacting to them.
A faction of House Republicans dubbed the “fiscal hawks” is pushing a set of bills that would make significant changes in the budget process. Other members are also chipping in with proposals to add new hurdles to how the administration works with the Legislature to get a budget passed.
One bill we find particularly far-fetched is splitting the budget, now basically contained in House Bill 1, into separate measures for dedicated and discretionary spending. This could be a nightmare if one budget passes and the other does not. And the point of HB1 is to have a unitary budget bill, so that lawmakers will make decisions about the state’s finances as a whole.
We don’t object to an improved process, but the mechanics of the budget process have been improved dramatically in recent decades. Such bodies as the Revenue Estimating Conference, setting reasonable projections on how much the state has to spend, have been constructive.
The Louisiana Constitution sets out reasonable standards for the responsibilities of the executive and legislative branches. In fact, the dirty secret of the budget debate is that lawmakers already have the constitutional power to be relevant. Political will has been lacking.
And it is important to remember that the process is not purely related to Jindal, who is term-limited and will be replaced by a new governor come January 2016. The governor and Legislature have to work together, obviously, but the end of the mechanics is a budget that reflects the will of a majority of lawmakers — not two-thirds or three-fourths of lawmakers, nor unelected officials’ vetoes during the process.
We hope lawmakers will be cautious as they approach the budget problem, and not reflexively react to specific actions by Jindal’s administration.