BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The difficult and controversial choices being made to close the state's $943 million deficit are another step closer to becoming the law. Hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes and spending cuts both passed the House Thursday.
Lawmakers began the day on the House floor an hour later than scheduled, and they recessed for lunch an hour longer than asked by Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia.
But ultimately, leaders who spoke to 9News were happy the most important measures toward closing the deficit crossed the halfway point to the governor's desk.
"That's almost a billion dollars in revenue," noted Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, talking about new revenue that will be applied toward this year's deficit and next year's, which topples $2 billion.
The largest of all tax hikes, the penny increase to the sales tax, passed the House Thursday after Jackson changed her bill, allowing the tax hike to end in 18 months.
"This puts the bill in its correct posture," said Rep. Jackson.
The amendment was presented after lunch, during which lawmakers met behind closed doors to come to a compromise, trading votes with Republicans to support raising the sales tax, and Democrats to support over $100 million in additional cuts.
That bill from Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, also passed.
When asked about the time spent Thursday talking behind closed doors, Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches, answered, "It was a time when Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike took the time to come together to a compromise to accomplish what we need for the state."
Over $300 million in new money from BP settlements and the state's figurative piggy bank, the "Rainy Day" fund, also advanced to the Senate.
Rep. Jackson said it is clear, even when running late as they did Thursday, lawmakers are not wasting time.
"I didn't go home this weekend, most members did," said Jackson. "We're committed to working straight 12, 14 days to get this done if we have to."
The bills to raise taxes on alcohol and cigarettes were pulled from the agenda Thursday.
Lawmakers said they are expected to be voted on Friday.