Covering Louisiana

May 29, 2011 12:51 PM by Chris Welty

Jindal Budget Criticism Comes from GOP

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The opposition party isn't the only one
giving Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal fits these days. It's his own
GOP.
Conventional wisdom would have suggested Republican takeovers of
both the House and Senate would have given Jindal an easier path
for passage of his legislative agenda and spending recommendations.
But that was never to be, particularly in the House, where GOP
leaders have ripped into the governor's budget proposals, helped
stymie his plans to sell three state prisons and worked with
Democrats to pass a cigarette tax renewal that Jindal is
threatening to veto.
The governor's toughest battles are the spending ones, where
Republican fiscal conservatives are suggesting the proposals
offered by Jindal, who positions himself as a fiscal hawk, don't
shrink government enough and rely too much on gimmicks.
To help deadlock some of the governor's legislative plans,
Republicans have been joined by Democrats angered by Jindal's
refusal to consider tax increases or the removal of tax breaks to
lessen cuts.
Add in the implications of an election year, and the political
scene was ripe for complications for Jindal.
Leading the disputes is Republican House Speaker Jim Tucker, who
has suggested backhandedly that Jindal isn't nearly as much of a
fiscal conservative as he claims.
Tucker and other House leaders successfully pushed to strip
dollars Jindal included in his budget proposal that depend on other
pieces of legislation to pass, including money from the sale of
three prisons, from the increase in state worker retirement costs
and from the diversion of a stream of tobacco settlement dollars to
the state's free college tuition program.
The House Appropriations Committee removed $139 million from the
nearly $25 billion budget proposal to eliminate those contingency
items.
Tucker, R-Terrytown, also objected to Jindal's inclusion of
hefty amounts of one-time money.
Joined with other Republicans and conservative Democrats, Tucker
said the state shouldn't be using large amounts of one-time cash to
pay for ongoing services and operating expenses because it just
continues financial problems annually when those dollars disappear.
The House speaker said Louisiana must shrink state government
spending, and he supported a new House restriction by Rep. Brett
Geymann, R-Lake Charles, on the use of one-time money in the annual
operating budget.
The move further complicated Jindal's efforts to get his budget
proposals out of the House. The new hurdle means the House stripped
out another $93 million of the one-time spending pot Jindal wanted
to use.
Tucker fought to keep those limitations in place, helping
scuttle attempts to get a two-thirds vote to use the extra one-time
money.
"To suspend this rule eliminates any pretense that you can run
as a fiscal conservative," Tucker told House members in a vehement
speech that quieted the chamber. "This is THE vote. To expend more
one-time money in budget than what is allowed for in the rule is
not prudent."
"For fiscal conservatives, please stand up," he said, getting
87 other members of the House to side with him, both conservative
Republicans and Democrats who realized the new restrictions give
them a way to tweak the governor and give them more leverage in the
budget debate.
So, as the 2011-12 budget headed to the Senate for debate, it
contains $232 million less in state funding than Jindal wants. The
governor says the cuts proposed by the House would devastate public
safety, health care services and education programs.
Meanwhile, House Republicans joined Democrats in supporting
renewal of a 4-cents- per-pack state cigarette tax that Jindal
strongly opposes and has threatened to veto. Jindal calls it a tax
increase, but some GOP lawmakers scoffed at the notion and
suggested they didn't want to lower the tobacco tax.
"There is a huge difference between renewing a tax and passing
a tax increase," said Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie. "If my
constituents can't see the difference between that, I don't know
that I want them voting for me."
So much for Republican alliances.
Like he did last year, the Jindal might find himself turning to
Democrats to get his legislative plans and his budget
recommendations passed.

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