State Representative Greg Miller (R-Norco) joined 18 other House of Representativesí members in asking that the current state budget be ruled unconstitutional by Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.
Miller said he voted against the budget as it made its way through the 2012 legislature. In particular, he voted against two budget bills that called for the use of one-time funds for recurring expenses.
The current budget, which relies on projected funds of $35 million from the potential sale of the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital and $56 million from excess property insurance funds from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, was called into question for relying on revenue that is yet to materialize.
"If we donít have the money to pay for our expenses, as a start we should not be selling hospitals and prisons and depending on insurance settlements," Miller said. "Any more than if you or me couldnít pay our monthly expenses, we shouldnít be depending on an insurance settlement to pay for that."
In a letter to Caldwell, the 19 representatives said that the budget should be considered unconstitutional on multiple grounds. Those include appropriating revenue in excess of the official revenue forecast, appropriations based on the passage of other bills and funds that do not exist yet and because restrictions on using non-recurring revenues were violated.
"We feel this is an important issue and that many of the people that signed the request for the attorney general have had the same position in the prior term," Miller said.
As far as using one-time, non-recurring funds to balance the budget, Miller said he thinks those funds should instead be used to pay down debts instead of being included in the general budget.
"We shouldnít be using the money for that," Miller said. "If we were going to use that money we should have used it to retire bonds, pay down unfunded liability of the retirement systems, pay for capital outlay projects or put that money back into the rainy day fund."
Miller said he is not sure what the timeline will be for the attorney generalís ruling on the matter or even if a ruling is required, but he said if the budget is ruled unconstitutional it may have immediate consequences on how the state deals with its fiscal responsibilities.
"If they say it is not constitutional I guess weíll have to say look at some other way to deal with our fiscal issues," Miller said. "What we got elected to do is deal with problems. We certainly canít bury our heads in the sand and keep kicking the can down the road about this and continuing to use one-time money for recurring revenues."
Included in the group of representatives asking the budget be ruled unconstitutional is Rep. Jerome "Dee" Richard (I-Thibodaux).
Earlier this year, Richard unsuccessfully lobbied for a special session of the legislature to deal with budgetary issues in the wake of around $800 million in cuts made by Gov. Bobby Jindal after an amendment in a congressional bill eliminated funds given to the state by the federal government. At the time, Richard said he and other legislators were unhappy about being left out of decisions for cuts made by the Jindal administration that resulted in hundreds of lost jobs across the state due to the closure of prisons and hospitals. More than $151 million in cuts were also made to the LSU hospital system.
Although Miller said he was not in favor of a special session on that issue, he thinks that the legislature could exercise its power in a more effective manner so as to have more of a say in the budgetary process.
"Iím not sure if there is too much power concentrated in the governorís office. What I would suggest is that perhaps there is not enough power exercised by the legislative branch sometimes," Miller said. "If we are not going to exercise our power then certainly that gives the governor more power."
Miller emphasized that his actions and those of his fellow representatives in trying to get the budget ruled unconstitutional are not directed at Jindal himself.
"This is not directed at the governor at all. Certainly the governor did push for this, he has a job to do and his job is extremely difficult in these times," Miller said. "I would assume the governor believes that we are doing the best for the state and I should hope that he would understand that this is not directed at any one person."