Political divides brought budget fix efforts up to the deadline

Political divides brought budget fix efforts up to the deadline

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Political divides over how to address the state's budget shortfall had leaders working up to the last seconds Wednesday night.

Minutes before the 6 p.m. deadline, House members were still running new legislation out of conference committee and onto the floor. In some cases, lawmakers on both sides of the State Capitol were forced to vote on measures without a chance to read them.

"This is not typical for the Senate receive bills of this magnitude with 15 minutes left," said Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans.

During the special session, Gov. John Bel Edwards called for tax increases coupled with cuts. He butted heads with many House Republicans, who stood firm in their desire to cut and not be tied to tax increases.

"I think when you're voting on money issues, I think the lines become pretty clear. You have a lot of tax-averse Republicans," said Speaker of the House Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia.

The disagreement showed its colors early and often, including during votes over cigarette and alcohol tax hikes.

"The sin taxes were addressed this session. Even those were pretty tough votes, considering the slim margin by which they passed," Barras said.

Certain Democrats point the finger of blame at new House members, who make up about a third of the House.

"It takes a year or two to understand the stewardship that is being a legislator and that you have to make tough decisions," Morrell said.

"They're hurting their own people by doing that because of the fact. We've been dealing with budgets that are fictitious for so long," said Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge.

Political analyst Jim Engster said the new speaker faced opposition from his own party in the House when trying to form consensus.

"He's dealing with disparate ideas in the House in his own party. So he's doing the best with what he has," Engster said.

As a result, bills often floundered in the House, while over in the Senate, long-time President John Alario, R-Westwego, kept members in line.

"A lot of Senators in particular feel they wish they had more instruments to solve the problem. And I give the Senate full credit, they did the best with what they had," Morrell said.

There is disagreement over whether this political partisanship will carry over into the regular session, when issues like abortion and gun control could be on the table.

"I don't see, as we get into the regular session, that the lines will be drawn quite that tight," Barras said.

"Sometimes feelings are more intense on the social side than they are on the money side, so we'll see," Engster said.

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