Tuesday, 19 June 2018 14:17

Ex-State Rep Brett Geymann: Louisiana budget Fiscal Hawk with "dove-like" respect

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Respectful and refreshing. 

Those are the words that came to my mind after discussing the Louisiana budget issues with former conservative Republican House of Representative Brett Geymann of Lake Charles, this morning via Bayoubuzz’s Facebook, Twitter and Youtube Live. 

Geymann, a businessman, has been out of office since January 2016 after years serving in the House. He was a key player among the group which were and still are called the “fiscal hawks”. They did what they could to maintain government spending.  The Hawks, for the most part, are fighting the battle right now within the House of Representatives to not raise the sales taxes.  For the most part, they are surrounded by the opposition—the governor and his administration, the Senate and Republicans and Democrats in the House who argue that the state needs more money to maintain the required level of services. 

Former Louisiana Rep Brett Geymann talks Louisiana budget, taxes

Brett Geymann, former Louisiana State Representative

But, whether I agree with them or not, they are consistent, In today’s age of politics and policy, consistency of principle if articulated with respect, can be most refreshing.

During our discussion, Geymann talked about the difficulties that the legislators must be going through as they have started their fourth legislative session this year, away from family, profession and business. He also discussed his respect for others in the legislature, regardless of political stripes. And, he drilled deep into the economic principles of the state budget, what seems to be working and what needs reworking. 

What struck me more than anything else is, again, the respect that Geymann appears to have for both the process, differences of opinions and for those who serve the state, regardless of political party.  Again, from my perspective, respectfully standing for principle in today's age of take-no-prisoners political warfare, is most refreshing and sorely needed.

Below is part one of our discussion. Part two, which goes into more detail as far as his own economic philosophy in crafting a budget and why he admires other states’ models such as that of Colorado’s approach to spending and raising revenues. 

The discussion below starts when I asked him about the unique situation of the current legislature now meeting for its third special session on top of a regular legislative session. 

GEYMANN: Look as a someone who's been there before, I never went through anything like that, where we had that many back-to-back sessions. I was there during Katrina and Rita when we had some emergency sessions, and of course, almost every governor that, that  has always had a special session to move his or her agenda, but never been through anything like what these folks are going through.  And  I know they're tired, and I know I'm taking their side and a lot of people are angry at them because they feel like  they're not doing their job, but I can only imagine how tired they are both mentally and physically and being away from their jobs and their families as much as they've been in. 

I have tons of respect for them personally and and just people on both sides of the issue I just totally have respect for them and think they're they're all trying to do the right thing they just differ on what it is that if they believe gets us to the point that we need to be.  And I think that's that's been a hang-up is trying to find a spot where everybody feels comfortable enough to to be able to move forward. 

SABLUDOWSKY: Sure now you were a member in sort of a quasi group called the Fiscal Hawks, that was not an official group, but basically you had a lot of battles at the time with the governor, Bobby Jindal and with the Democrats, sometimes you all aligned with the Democrats. 

GEYMANN: That's correct 

SABLUDOWSKY: So so, but basically what I really appreciate is that y'all were and have been very consistent--whether whether I believe or agree with you or not, the consistency is to me  really refreshing and also so I'm just wondering--how do you feel about , I mean there's a group there's about seven or eight legislators right now who are under the gun, who may make a difference if those seven legislators mainly in the house go ahead and and agree with the Senate and the Democrats, then we're talking about a budget that is gonna be more than I think the fiscal Hawks want? 

GEYMANN: Well that's gonna be,  the thing that we're gonna have to watch is how that unfolds over the next few days.  And and to back up one bit and comment on what you said in the in the first part, and I appreciate you making that statement that we were consistent and also that we worked with both Democrats and Republicans at time on the issue because it was about the issue and it was not about who was governor.  

You have to put in perspective at the time, I was serving under the in former Governor Bobby Jindal and I was a Republican and I am a conservative, so it was unusual to have conservative Republicans on opposite ends of a "Republican conservative governor".  That was not normal at the time for members of the same party to work opposite of the sitting governor, and so I think that was a uniqueness of what we did--is we focused on the issue of doing the budget in order and getting it stable and getting it "fixed" as we saw it, regardless of who the governor was, and so we often found ourselves on the opposite side of both the party and the governor.  

And so today, when I make comments whether anybody's listening to me or not, doesn't matter, but my comments are consistent today with the same comments I would make then under Bobby Jindal.  And so it wasn't about, it's not today about John Bel Edwards and then it wasn't about John Bel, I mean about Governor Jindal. It was about what we viewed as what the state needed to do in the budget reform process. And so now we're down to, as you said about seven members short of reaching a seventy, two-thirds, vote threshold in the House to pass whatever revenue measure it is that they end up moving forward.  

How those seven members come on board, I don't, honestly, I don't know.   if you voted against raising or renewing the sales tax in the past, I don't know how you vote for it now.  Now there may be some members who are willing to vote for a third, that didn't vote for the half, that maybe they'll come on over to the half, I mean it's just going to be interesting as you said to see how that plays out and whether they can come to some agreement to get 70 people to agree on on whatever it is I try to move forward. 

SABLUDOWSKY: So the pressure must be, I mean, it must be really strong pressure on both sides of this particular issue--I mean it seems like they've been fighting over same thing now for about seven months, six months 

GEYMANN: I agree I think the pressure is going to be tremendous both from the constituency, home.  If you're,  speaking of those who have not gotten on board with moving forward on on a revenue-raising measure of whatever kind, the pressure back home can often be very intense.  As I look back on my career there,  I represented an area that has a university, hospital, nursing homes,  all the same things that are now looking for-- "hey we need to be funded and we're looking for you to do that for us". 

I mean it's it's a lot of pressure from those folks that to step out and go ahead and move forward with raising revenue, at the same time trying to represent your constituency and vote and support on what you believe is the right thing to do, if especially if you're a principled person and you're standing by your guns and I look back at Cedric Glover who is opposing the tax, the sales tax renew because he just doesn't believe it's the right thing to do, because it in his opinion hurts the people who can least afford to be hurt. 

 and so he's standing on a principled issue of "no I don't think the sales tax is the right way to go forward". And I have a ton of respect for him for that because he that's what he believes, he's willing to be out there  on his own and basically making those statements and standing on that and voting on that and I know he's getting a lot of pressure at home too. 

Cedric Glover, Cedric Glover a former representative and then and then Mayor of Shreveport and now back as a representative. I had the pleasure of serving with him  a few years when I first got there. I was a freshman and he was on his way out. We built the relationship as  as former colleagues  back in that day. 

SABLUDOWSKY: Right right so the pressure is strong on both sides--but the pressure is also stronger, I believe, if I might and that is strong coming from the education higher ed community and --I received a package from them yesterday where they outlined and say that  they're basically  funding higher ed is funding economic development. I don't think anybody can disagree with that, so what is the argument against the increase of the sales tax given the fact that we're talking about 17 cents on a hundred dollars, a purchase? 

GEYMANN: Well now you, now you're getting to the root of the issue, and that, and look, let me let me say this first I don't think anybody disagrees with you or the folks in higher ed about needing to fund them at an adequate level. And that's been a challenge for us and it's really since the post rita katrina bubble,  after the recovery period stopped and we had funded higher education at the southern average for the first time in years and  we couldn't sustain that, the economy wouldn't let us sustain that, so it's been, it's been a challenge for the legislature from that point on. 

But let me back up and just say that this is where perhaps you and I may disagree, it's not about whether we should fund higher education as much as it is about how much money should we be spending--period and that is based on what?  And that, my argument has been and still is today--is what does the economy of Louisiana show that the states should be able to spend and sustain at that level over time?  

And the big issue with higher ed is--we need stability.  We need to know that we're going to be funded year to year, at an adequate level, that's pretty much the case with every agency.  But the problem is, in Louisiana we do things a little backwards than most other states do and then as we spend the money and then we go chase the revenue. And where other states determine the amount of revenue first and then they go spend the money following.  

 We have an RSC forecast it says hey we think we're going to have X amount of dollars available next year and then we go spend that money. And it's really, and I don't mean this disrespectful, it's really based on a wish list of what the agencies come to the table and say this is what we need next year in order to maintain what we're doing and continue to serve the people in the way that we are.  

And so it's it's their their wish list and then we have to figure out as a legislative body how do we fund all these wish lists?  And that's just, it's just, it's upside down and you take a state like Colorado, and I'm using them as an example, there's plenty of other ones that have the same process, they have, in law, a formula, that determines what the economy is doing in the state of Colorado averaged over time and that helps them determine the amount of revenue that the state should be able to spend without, without continuing to be able to sustain that.  And and that's been my argument-- is we need to determine the right amount of revenue and then, and then, we can have a debate about what our priorities are .and I think higher education is absolutely a priority. 

Healthcare is growing faster than we can sustain it, we all know that, none of us really have the magic wand on how to fix that. But as long as higher education is growing, I mean, as healthcare is growing at that rate, it is at the expense of other agencies, and as  and probably everybody else in the state by now higher education it's not protected in the Constitution as a dedicated fund and so therefore and and they're a large portion of the budget. And so therefore it always seems like higher education is on the chopping block and and and it's a year after year after year battle.

 

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