Mark Ballard: The Return of the Fiscal Hawks to the Louisiana Legislature | Marc Ballard

Nearly a decade had passed when Lake Charles Republican Rep. Brett Geymann recently approached the Louisiana House podium to add dense financial jargon to page 12 of the preamble to the state’s operating budget. State. The House agreed.

“We’re putting the group back together,” Geymann said a few days later.

He talks about the “Fiscal Hawks,” a loosely configured group of bipartisan representatives that Geymann helped lead during their brief lives starting about 15 years ago. They challenged the dazzling funding of the then government. Bobby Jindal was using.

The fiscal hawks — whose numbers then included Representatives John Bel Edwards, now governor, and John Schroder, now state treasurer — pursued technical process changes in how state finances were distributed and challenged some of the lavish economic development tax breaks. umbrella.

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Their primary goal was to prevent one-time dollars from property sales, legal settlements, and existing funds from being used to pay for annual expenses that appear in the budget each year. The Fiscal Hawks argued that using money not available next year to pay for recurring expenses led to mid-year budget cuts and started each new fiscal year in the hole, which has produced for most of Jindal’s eight years as governor.

Although briefly successful in influencing fiscal policy and angering the administration, the Falcons crumbled as the 2015 campaign season approached and some of its GOP members, including Geymann, embraced the fight for the academic standards of the common core – the cause of that year. of the day.

When the smoke from the 2015 election cleared, Geymann was absent, after 12 years in the House, and Edwards was governor. Edwards balanced the budget by cutting spending and increasing the state sales tax by a penny.

Most of the old clique members had moved on. Then-Reps. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, and Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge; Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, and Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, became senators.

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These days, instead of having to come up with a billion dollars every year and talk about which university to close, Louisiana has about $2 billion more and the discussion is about how to spend the surplus.

The situation Geymann faced, when he was elected in 2021 to return to the House, reminds him of what things were like a few years after he first arrived in 2004.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita of 2005, a state many thought was down for the count unexpectedly rebounded with billions of dollars from the federal government and insurance companies embarking on frantic rebuilding and buying replacement devices, vehicles and the like. Bursting with cash, lawmakers expanded old services, added new ones and cut taxes, systematically creating years of lost revenue as the economy deteriorated.

“For me, post-Rita-Katrina has been an enduring experience,” Geymann said in an interview last week. “It’s Groundhog Day. We are doing the same thing today as we were then: reimbursing deferred maintenance, increasing teachers’ salaries. »

Geymann commends Edwards and lawmakers for spending much, not all, of the extra money on one-time investments in infrastructure projects and debt repayment. But the Revenue Estimating Conference, which decides how much money the state can use, predicts the economy – hence state revenue – will flatten in the coming years.

“We spend a lot of money,” Geymann said. “We’ll still have to buckle up.”

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Geymann’s amendment to House Bill 1, the state’s operating budget, is written in English that can only be described as “technical.” This essentially blocks the use of additional funds that should be “recognized” by the REC on Monday to add an additional $500 to proposed salary increases for educators or any other expense that will be part of the annual operating budget and will have to be paid to the future. Geymann said the additional funds needed to increase teacher salary increases from $1,500 to $2,000 can and should be found in the recurring revenue stream.

Geymann has three more bills and a constitutional amendment making its way through the system that would control how excess dollars are spent. Other lawmakers are pursuing similar bills that restrict how the money is categorized and used. For example, State Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, wants to start weaning the state off proceeds from the state sales tax increase, which is slated to end in 2025 and nearly $450 million dollars used to pay outstanding bills decrease.

“We have to be careful with recurrent expenses; that’s what increases the budget,” Geymann said.

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