What’s Next For Budget Reform Group?

Jeremy Alford Thursday, October 3, 2013 0
What’s Next For Budget Reform Group?

For starters, the organization will continue to be referred to as the Fiscal Hawks, whether its membership likes it or not.

“It’s funny,” said Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington. “We never asked to be called that.”

Second, the coalition may be inching toward a 2014 agenda that includes the drafting of their own appropriations bills, including a fully functional alternative to House Bill 1, the heart of the state’s annual spending plan.

But first they’ll have to meet. The coalition, which is made up overwhelmingly of fiscally conservative Republicans, hasn’t sat at the same table since the session ended, nor has it made any official decisions.

Still, it has been in the headlines recently, beginning with one story in The Lens that suggested a new alliance had been forged between the coalition and Democrats, and ending with another in The Times-Picayune that quoted lawmakers who called that description a “mischaracterization.”

The latter story was fueled by anti-Democratic remarks from House GOP Chairman Lance Harris of Alexandria that seemed to address the angst expressed last session by Jindal Republicans.

Another founding member of the coalition, Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, admitted their war against one-time money in the budget was won last session with the help of Democrats and, if the battle continues to be issues-driven, that working relationship may need to continue. “We’re not against working with anyone,” he said.

Schroder agreed, adding, “If we don’t do that, Louisiana loses.”

The news stories in The Lens and Picayune, however, may have made that task more difficult. “It forced Republicans and Democrats a little further apart,” Schroder said.

What hasn’t changed about the coalition is its leadership structure, or lack thereof, with no clear chairman or director. Schroder plays the role of “cat herder” or whip. The coalition usually doesn’t meet without his ringing a bell or two. He said meetings will likely commence in November.

“Everyone is doing their own little things,” he said.

Geymann, meanwhile, plays point on policy and Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, does the same, although in an unofficial capacity. He’s the one working on the alternative budget idea that will eventually be presented to the whole group.

“If the House can come up with its own budget, we can see where all the money is. It’s the next logical step for us,” he said, adding that the coalition wants to have a fleshed-out document in hand before it approaches Republicans in the Senate.


Hawks Could Claw At NGOs, Too

Treasurer John Kennedy’s ongoing work to shed light on the millions of taxpayer dollars directed to nonprofits with little to no accountability hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Hammond attorney and popular blogger C.B. Forgotston is on part 27 of his online opus pulling back the curtain on all the non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, that were identified by Kennedy as not being in compliance with financial reporting rules.

Now lawmakers are beginning to take notice as well. Rep. Dee Richard, an independent from Thibodaux, tells LaPolitics he’s currently drafting legislation that would eliminate all NGOs from the appropriations process. “We really need to do something about this,” said Richard. “Right now we’re trying to figure out whether it needs to be done by a constitutional amendment.” Richard has stood with the Fiscal Hawks in the past, his partner on the bill, Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, is part of the group’s leadership structure.

Other lawmakers are said to be working on proposals for the 2014 session, too, or at least investigating the issue closely. These lawmakers include Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge; Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro; and Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge.

Kennedy said he’s been hearing from lawmakers on a regular basis and believes there are several avenues available to them. “But they need to be careful. Not all NGOs are bad,” he said, citing councils on aging as an example.

Lawmakers might want to abolish NGOs altogether, he said, and maybe create a prioritization schedule or require that each one is voted on separately. “If voted on separately, I can only assume that things like the Purple Circle Social Club wouldn’t pass,” Kennedy said.


Robideaux, Arnold Eye Future

Two term-limited state representatives are looking to move beyond the State Capitol.

Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, the dean of the House, who was first elected in 2002, is expected to announce his challenge to New Orleans City Councilwoman Kristin Palmer in District C in the February primary. The majority-black district spans the river from the West Bank to the French Quarter and nearby neighborhoods.

Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, will likewise be politicking on the West Bank in late September for a fundraiser at Mardi Gras World, as he considers running for mayor-president of Lafayette Parish in 2015. “I am trying to get support outside of the usual suspects,” he told LaPolitics. The term-limited state rep is well-positioned to do just that as chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee for another two sessions.


Bill Comes Down To Food Stamps Again

Most folks don’t realize that what’s included in the federal Farm Bill has the potential to affect practically all aspects of Louisiana life, from the cornfields in the north and sugar cane in the south to insurance for all of the crops in between.

In spite of that, last years pattern is being repeated, and the only thing that really matters are food stamps.

Congress couldn’t come to an agreement in 2012 on a new Farm Bill because the House wanted to cut more from the food stamp program than the Senate; so they simply extended by 12 months the entire bill, which was slated to expire Oct. 1.

Congress seems no closer to a Farm Bill agreement than it was a year ago, and the same expiration date is approaching. Should Congress allow the Farm Bill to expire, federal law would revert to 1949 guidelines effective Jan. 1, which would, in turn, force prices for milk and other commodities to skyrocket.

The House’s next move involves voting on a proposal to cut as much as $40 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade. It’s expected that the vote will only lead to conference negotiations with the Senate, which has already passed a Farm Bill that cuts food stamps by $4 billion.

Many analysts are already predicting another one-year extension, with hopes that a new five-year Farm Bill can be brokered by the end of the year.


To Extend Or Not To Extend?

The political posturing on the Farm Bill puts Louisiana’s House delegation in the hot seat. Earlier this summer, the last House version, which failed, created interesting coalitions with its proposed $20 billion cut to the food stamp program.

Reps. John Fleming, R-Minden, and Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, voted against it because the bill didn’t cut food stamps enough. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, also voted no because he thought the targeted reduction was too much. Voting to pass the bill were Reps. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman; Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; and Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.

As it stands now, both the House and Senate seem to agree on eliminating $4.5 billion in direct cash payments to farmers and replacing that with a crop insurance program. Both also seem to be offering protections for rice and sugar, which had gross farm values in Louisiana last year of $371 million and $586 million, respectively, according to the LSU AgCenter.

International trade rules are causing soybean farmers, who produced a crop valued at $700 million in Louisiana last year, to question some of the planting decisions Congress is making. Plus, the sliding price of corn, valued at $602 million in 2012, is making many in the Bayou State industry nervous as the Farm Bill’s expiration date approaches.

A program for wetland restoration hangs in the balance, too. In its two decades of existence, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Wetlands Reserve Program has restored more than 2.6 million acres of wetlands habitat across the nation. If there’s no Farm Bill, the program will vanish.

While an extension will surely soothe nerves, state Agriculture Commission Mike Strain has said the industry needs the stability of the usual five-year Farm Bill. Without it, banks might start second-guessing loans, and farmers could cut back on new investments.


They Said It

“I would be crazy not to look at it.”

—State Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, on his consideration of  a run for the U.S. Senate

“If Grover Norquist can’t figure out which Louisiana district has a special election coming up, he definitely should not have a say in our elections.”

—Louisiana Democratic Party Executive Director Stephen Handwerk on a press release from Americans for Tax Reform, which Norquist leads, mistaking the 6th Congressional District for the 5th.

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