Special session gets off to a slow start

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - One day into the special session aimed at fixing the state's $304 million budget shortfall, and lawmakers have very little to show for it.

Lawmakers in the Senate Finance committee advanced to the floor a measure that will allow them to raid the state's "Rainy Day Fund" – the state's savings account that can be used during financial emergencies. The governor's office wants to use $120 million of that fund as part of a plan to balance out the budget.

"If we don't use the Rainy Day Fund, some of those programs that are much needed by the people of this state, much used and we have much concern about may well get hurt," said Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, who is sponsoring the legislation to open up the savings account.

Meanwhile, over in the House, delays defined the day. The House Appropriations committee, which has the first crack at dealing with the budget, was supposed to meet to discuss their budget plan, but that hearing got scrapped. House leaders and the governor met throughout the day behind closed doors
to try to pound out a budget compromise. A source inside those meetings said House Republicans brought a proposal that would only use about $50 million from the Rainy Day Fund, thereby opening the door for potential cuts to higher education and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

The delay suggests the meetings between House and the governor are not going well. A group of House Republicans opposes using the state's savings. They prefer deeper cuts.

"I would like to look at every single option available to us before we get into the Rainy Day Fund," said Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria.

Despite the pressure of the quickly approaching deadline, Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, said she is still confident that they will reach a compromise. "Whether we have ten days or ten weeks, we're going to work up until midnight," Hewitt said.

House Appropriations has rescheduled their meeting to discuss the budget until Wednesday, February 15.

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