BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Two months of efforts to fully fund higher education and healthcare are coming down to the last minute.
The House Wednesday unanimously rejected the Senate's draft of the budget, sending HB 1 to a special conference committee made up of both senators and representatives.
"Members, I would move to reject the Senate amendments and send House Bill 1 to conference. We've got some work that we need to do on it," said Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro.
That means last minute efforts to reach an agreement on next year's $24 billion spending plan are happening behind closed doors, outside of public view.
But as lawmakers fear, Gov. Jindal could reject over $370 million in new tax measures because right now there's nothing in the budget to offset those taxes and make the spending plan "revenue neutral" in the eyes of the governor.
Supporters of the proposed SAVE fund say their plan would have done that. That's the higher education fee that no one would actually have to pay.
SAVE, however, was wiped from the budget when the House rejected the Senate's amendments Wednesday. And now without it to avoid a likely veto, higher ed leaders say Louisiana's public colleges and universities could lose as much as $282 million with $136 million of that cut from LSU.
But even though last minute talks are happening behind closed doors, the state's higher education commissioner is still hopeful.
"We're still holding heart that we need to be made whole," said Dr. Joseph Rallo, LA Higher Ed Commissioner. "Tomorrow's the day and we're still very optimistic that the Legislature will recognize the role of higher education, not just as a private good but as a public good and come through with this significant funding that we need."
Worst case scenario here, if Gov. Jindal vetoes the whole budget, the state treasury would be empty and the state government would begin shutting down on July 1.
Fannin, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, and Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, will be the three members of the House assigned to the conference committee.