BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A package of proposals by conservative House lawmakers seeking to rewrite the laws governing how the state estimates and spends its money began advancing Monday in the Louisiana Legislature.

The bills pushed by the mainly Republican group nicknamed the "fiscal hawks" would limit what dollars lawmakers and the governor could use to pay for ongoing programs and services — striking at Gov. Bobby Jindal's continued use of patchwork funding to balance the budget. Many of the measures would rewrite the state constitution.

Supporters say they are trying to add stability and transparency to the budget process and end the cycle of repeated shortfalls. Critics say the changes could unnecessarily limit the types of money available to lawmakers and could worsen budget cuts.

C'EST WHAT?
I just push the buttons. I don't have answers to all the questions."

— Rep. Joel Robideaux, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee,
joking in a response to a committee member's question about a bill's impact
on the higher education funding formula

The House Appropriations Committee passed four fiscal hawk bills (House Bills 434, 435, 437 and 620) without objection Monday, sending them to the full House for debate.

The measures would require the state's income forecasting panel to determine which dollars are expected to appear year after year. Lawmakers would be limited in how they could spend one-time money, and they wouldn't be able to spend dollars not recognized by the Revenue Estimating Conference.

"I believe this would give us real dollars to budget. It would make the budgeting process more reliable," said Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, chairman of the House Republican delegation.

The proposals also would require more scrutiny of dollars that are earmarked to programs required by state law or constitution.

If higher education and health care are proposed for cuts, spending from the earmarked funds would be split into a second piece of legislation, so lawmakers could decide if they want to reverse some of the obligations, to protect health care and colleges.

Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, questioned logistical problems that could be caused by having separate budget bills, but he didn't oppose the legislation.

In other legislative action:

A bid to change the way retirement benefits are calculated for state employees, to prevent spikes in retirement checks and reduce costs for the state, failed to win support from the Senate Retirement Committee. The panel voted 4-2 against the measure (Senate Bill 7) by Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, which would have calculated the monthly retirement payment on an employee's top five years of salary instead of three years.

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