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|New rule lacks teeth|
A new rule approved by the House of Representatives earlier this week requires the House to approve by a two-thirds vote the use of one-time revenues to balance a budget.
Offered by Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, the new rule altered the state's fiscal posture heading into the 2011-2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The Legislature is in the midst of a regular session, working toward approving a roughly $24.9-billion budget for the new fiscal year. Advocated by the Jindal administration, the proposed budget for the new fiscal year contains about $500 million in one-time revenues, or revenues that won't necessarily be available for the Legislature to spend in the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
Using one-time revenues to balance a budget is not out of the norm in Louisiana. Last year, lawmakers relied on about $800 million in one-time revenues to balance the 2010-2011 fiscal year budget. The year before that, lawmakers turned to roughly $1.6 billion in one-time revenues to balance the budget.
On the surface, Geymann's rule seems like a good idea. After all, it is not sound fiscal policy for the Legislature to rely upon one-time monies to pay for ongoing expenses.
The problem with Geymann's rule, though, is it could be easily set aside, or suspended, for the House to embrace one-time revenues in approving a budget. Also, Geymann's rule does not affect the Senate, and that means the Senate is not bound to gin up a two-thirds vote to sign off on the use of one-time revenues in approving a budget.
What does that mean?
That means it is probable the Senate will approve a budget in the regular session that largely mirrors the budget the Jindal administration pieced together for the new fiscal year. When the Senate's budget reaches the House, the House more than likely will snub it, sending the measure to a conference committee where the legislative leadership will craft a compromise. That compromise most likely will entail the use of one-time revenues to balance the new fiscal year budget.
That scenario largely deals in hypotheticals, but it is an accurate description of what most likely will occur before the conclusion of the regular session. It also makes the point that for Geymann's rule to be truly effective, the Senate must approve a new rule that reflects the rule the House approved.
That's probably not going to occur because the Senate isn't as conservative as the House. Even if the Senate embraced the anti-one-time revenues position that the House adopted, what's to stop the House and Senate from setting aside, or suspending, their one-time revenue rules to approve a budget that relies on the use of one-time revenues?
Absolutely nothing, and that's why Geymann should entertain offering his new rule as a proposed constitutional amendment for the voters to decide.
We suspect a majority of the state's voters won't warm up to the idea of the Legislature cutting the budget to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars because lawmakers were prohibited from using one-time revenues.