Louisiana Senate passes $24B budget

Louisiana Senate passes $24B budget

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Overwhelmingly, the $24 billion spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is one step closer to Gov. Jindal's desk.

House Bill 1, the budget bill, is going back to the House with some changes, like more than doubling the House proposal to increase the cigarette tax. Leaving the Senate, it's now a 72 cent increase, a number said to be too high for some members of the House.

That's making one senator worry.

"Hundreds of millions of dollars are in the other chamber right now that have not yet been voted on," said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans

Senate Finance Chairman Jack Donahue says he's felt the pressure of time to get the budget in order, saying senators have met non-stop the past few weeks.

But his critics in the Senate say lawmakers can do better in efforts to close the $1.8 billion shortfall, as estimated by the state treasurer's office.

"I would make an analogy of this to writing a check and not knowing how much is in your account," said Sen. Peterson.

"Senator, I mean, you and I can't disagree more," replied Sen. Donahue, R-Mandeville.

Senators Peterson and Donahue also sparred over the controversial SAVE fund. That's the proposed higher education fee that no one would actually have to pay but would please Gov. Jindal by offsetting a raise in taxes.

"We need it to be able to balance the budget," said Sen. Donahue.

"But it doesn't exist," replied Sen. Peterson. "Would you be opposed to amendments that I'd like to see too, since it doesn't exist yet. But I'm hopeful too. So are you going to be OK with amendments, let's call it the 'Hope Amendment.'"

"Well, you can put whatever amendments you want on here, senator, but I hope you don't," replied Sen. Donahue.

Senators voted to keep the fund attached to the budget.

Meanwhile in support, outgoing Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, says lawmakers should be proud of their work.

So did U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy who traveled from Washington to commend his old colleagues.

"Thank you for your good work and what you're doing. Y'all are doing great work with a tough situation," said Sen. Cassidy, a former state senator serving from 2006 to 2009.

After passing the budget, senators quickly moved to also pass a couple of bills that would fund construction projects and the Legislature.

By law, both sides of the Legislature have until Thursday to reach a final agreement on the budget.

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