Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Written by Jeremy AlfordA behind-the-scenes look at how the budget was passed, warts and all.
The day the House first sent the state’s $26 billion budget to the Senate, the folks over at Hubig’s sent a sizable tray of their delectable little pies to pass out among lawmakers on the floor. In response, legislators starting calling out for their favs. “Toss me an apple!” “They brought any peach?” There was even a sergeant-at-arms jockeying for a lemon pie. Of course, there were also a few players who recused themselves from enjoying what is probably Faubourg Marigny’s most famous food.
The hustle and bustle wasn’t unlike the posturing that happens every year over the state’s financial resources, except the budget represents one enormous pie and practically everyone wants a slice.
At no other time was that more evident during the recent regular session than on its final day last Monday, June 21. That’s when the House leaders, most notably Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, agreed to send the state’s annual spending plan in House Bill 1 to Gov. Bobby Jindal without forcing the measure into a compromise committee.
In exchange, Senate President Joel Chaisson, D-Destrehan, agreed to attach $30 million in lawmakers’ pet projects to the state’s ancillary budget legislation in House Bill 76, the same barrel of pork the Senate members patted themselves on the back for stripping from HB 1 when the bill came over from the House. “I think they serve a valuable service,” Chaisson said of the projects during the session’s final hours.
As in previous years, the dough was doled out based on rank and favor. For the most part, the Legislature’s chairmen were granted six-figure marks, sometimes more, while individual members of the budget committees were awarded with smaller amounts. In many instances, those amounts can be traded to lower-ranking lawmakers as a swap for votes or other courtesies.
To hear Fannin explain it is to hear the voice of political reason. Nothing gets done around the Capitol for nothing. “It’s just a process down here where members who work on and sit on committees are able to have a little for doing that,” he said before the House adjourned sine die.
Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans, chastised his colleagues for not only taking part in the “process,” but also endorsing it through a series of yea votes. “If you’re going home with your little project and you’re happy, then you’re not looking at this with a clear vision for the state,” LaFonta said. “This here stinks. And it stinks because everybody in this room got elected by their constituency to come down here and be responsible.”
It’s not as if the state has money to spare. The fiscal year that ended in June suffered from a $600 million shortfall, the new budget that takes hold July 1 contains a pesky $1 billion gap, and lawmakers were forced to begin preparing — it’s up for debate if that truly occurred — for another $2 billion deficit that’s forecasted for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
That latter figure is likely to balloon, LaFonta railed last week, thanks in part to Jindal’s decision, for which he had legislative support, to use one-time money to float the new budget, rather than cutting in preparation for the coming short cliff/long fall. Another hit will probably be delivered by the ongoing environmental and economic disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, just in time for Budget Crisis 2.0 next year.
Catching on to what seemed like a scene of political irony at the time, Rep. Ernest Wooton, R-Belle Chasse, floated a dead-on assessment. “This day will live in infamy,” Wooton said. “Little Bobby turns liberal, and Rep. LaFonta turns conservative.”
What’s a Louisiana politician to do? It’s plain to see it’s a case of everybody wanting a piece. Freshman Rep. Ledricka Johnson Thierry, D-Opelousas, having served in her very first session, thanked House members for a “great experience” last week, which caused House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, to walk up to the podium to check her forehead for fever.
But she was really up there to offer legislators in the Lower Chamber a piece of the sweet potato pies she brought in from her district. At least one House member was quick on the draw and explained just how the process works — again with pies. “Do we get the whole sweet potato pie,” asked Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, “or do we have to give half to the Senate?” Jeremy Alford can be reached at
. Bringing Home the Bacon
Despite that the recent fiscal year suffered a $600 million shortfall and the gap will widen in the future, Acadiana lawmakers mustered support for their pet projects — including a $1 million line item for Lafayette, substantial when compared with other cities and parishes. $150,000
Louisiana Political Hall of Fame and Museum$200,000
Lafayette Parish Consolidated Government for acquisitions and improvements related to widening Kaliste Saloom Road$500,000
Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities$1.6 million
Arts Program for decentralized arts$60 million
Coastal protection activities related to the Deepwater Horizon explosion$50,000
Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre$10,000
Tipitina’s Foundation Inc.$1 million
Lafayette Parish Consolidated Government for compressed natural gas infrastructure, construction, fueling stations, pipelines and the purchase of CNG vehicles$5,000
North Lafayette library0