BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The safety net hospitals and higher education are the top priorities in an updated budget proposal advanced Monday by the Louisiana House.
The House supplemental budget bill, HB 69, takes into account $284 million in new revenue, which comes from tax measures that have won approval in both the House and Senate.
Under the plan, higher education institutions would receive an additional $25 million compared to the original budget passed during the regular session, thereby shielding them from cuts next year. The state's partnership hospitals that treat the uninsured also received additional dollars so they could be funded at the level requested by the Edwards administration.
Other programs, including K-12 public schools and the school voucher program, would also receive additional, though not complete, funding.
TOPS, however, would still face cuts. The House plan has the scholarship funded at approximately 70 percent, meaning students would have to cover the cost of about 30 percent of tuition. The future of TOPS inspired extensive debate on the House floor, with at least one representative recommending they fully fund the program at the expense of the Department of Health.
"Giving a student 80 percent TOPS scholarship to go to a college that's less than fully funded makes no sense to me at all," said Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.
"It seems to me like the only punching bag in the budget is TOPS. The only punching bag, the only grab bag, its where whenever someone wants a few dollars, they grab it," said Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prarieville.
The governor called lawmakers back into a second special session as part of an effort to fill a $600 million shortfall in state funds for next year. The state may also be facing a $200 million deficit next year due to lower-than-anticipated returns on corporate taxes, according to one of the state's top economists.
Both bills modify corporate and business tax breaks, including modifying and placing limits on the inventory tax credit. SB 6 garnered some objections from the big business community.
"You're hitting me harder when I'm down, you're rewarding me when times are good," said one business lobbyist for the oil industry.
"We're not taking away a tax credit, we're simply saying that if you're over a certain amount, we're not writing you a check," said Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, who sponsored the legislation. "And for these large companies that are complaining, they got plenty of incentives under the previous administration."
Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, who has opposed other tax measures before in House Ways and Means, gave both measures the thumbs up.
"I think the combination of them is a reasonable policy, especially as we look toward 2017 with major comprehensive reform," Ivey said.
The supplemental budget bill now heads to the Senate. The two revenue bills also head to the Senate for final approval.