BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - By the smallest of margins, a Louisiana House committee defeated a bill to create the SAVE fund with a 10-9 vote Wednesday.
It's a plan from Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, to put a roughly $1,700 fee on all new college students, but they wouldn't actually have to pay it. It could be called a phantom fee.
It was a play on words that confused some lawmakers.
"This, to me, seems like a gimmick," said Rep. Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales.
"I am really trying to wrap my mind around this whole thing," said Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge
Sen. Donahue says the bill would fund higher education, distributing some $300 million a year to the state's colleges and universities, but
Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield acknowledges it actually does not create any new money. The $300 million would come from tax measures already in the budget bill.
"It's a fictitious fee to assign a credit to be able to reach tax neutrality for the governor. Am I right? And just be honest with me because I don't want to sit here all day," said Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville.
"No, no, this bill would serve as an offset for raising revenue which is very important to this administration," answered Barfield.
Rep. Johnson points to the bigger picture: Gov. Jindal's commitment to pass a budget without raising taxes.
"We need to pass a budget, not put a whole lot of gimmicks in it, any money laundering," said Rep. Lambert.
"I disagree with the term money laundering because it sounds like we're doing something nefarious and that's not true. We're setting up a budget that the governor might be able to sign," responded Sen. Donahue.
"It is a fund that has no money in it. That is a fake," replied Rep. Lambert.
The bill had the support of higher education leaders, but not one LSU student who says the bill only helps Gov. Jindal keep his pledge not to raise taxes.
"Do not pass this ridiculous gimmick, which is exactly what got us into this mess in the first place," said Scott Cornelius, an LSU senior, to the House Ways and Means Committee.
9News asked Secretary Barfield if a veto from Gov. Jindal is now inevitable. No governor has vetoed the budget under the current state constitution dating back to 1974.
"The fact that this bill didn't get out makes it more likely to be vetoed. I'm not prepared to say there will be a veto. There's still a lot of work to be done," said Barfield.
A statement from the Governor's Office Wednesday reads, "The budget deal is still baking. There's still time to get a budget done that is balanced, protects higher education and healthcare, and doesn't raise taxes."