What’s next for the budget reform coalition?
LApolitics notebook by By Jeremy Alford & John Maginnis
"It’s funny," said Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington. "We never asked to be called that."
Secondly, 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 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 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 that 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 be repeated.
"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 him ringing a bell or two and 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 approaching 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 of 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."
While Richard has stood with the Fiscal hawks in the past, his partner on the bill, Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, is more a 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, including Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge; Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro; and Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge.
Kennedy said he has been hearing from lawmakers on a regular basis and he 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, 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.
eye next steps
Two term-limited state representatives are looking to move beyond the State Capitol.
Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, the dean of the House 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.
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