Tensions flare in House over budget balancing proposals

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Just three days into the special session, and tensions are already reaching a fever pitch at the capitol.

Legislators are working on plans to balance the state's budget, which currently is short a projected $304 million for the fiscal year ending June 30. Over the past few days, the governor and members of the legislature have met behind closed doors to try to pound out a deal. However, those meetings appear to not be going well, as was on display in the House Appropriations committee Wednesday.

"We've been hearing all the talk about not using the Rainy Day Fund and we haven't seen any cuts. You've got to propose cuts if you want to deal with this budget in a responsible way," said Jay Dardenne, the Commissioner of Administration.

Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who chairs the House Appropriations committee fired back.

"I gave him a plan. We proposed cuts and he didn't like them. So when you say, 'You need to propose cuts,' you need to preface that we have proposed cuts. You all just didn't like them, and when I asked for a number to meet in the middle, you didn't do that either," Henry said to Dardenne.

The House Appropriations Committee advanced two budget proposals to the budget floor. Both use less money from the so-called "Rainy Day Fund" than the governor's plan called for. The Rainy Day Fund works essentially as a savings account that can be tapped into during emergencies.

Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to use $120 million from the Rainy Day Fund in order to spare things like higher education, K-12 public schools, and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections from cuts.

One House plan, proposed by Henry, uses around $75 million in Rainy Day Funds and includes cuts to the three areas Edwards sought to protect.

Another proposal, sponsored by Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prarieville, and Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, does not use any Rainy Day money. The plan does not include cuts to colleges or corrections, but health programs and other agencies get deeper cuts.

The full House gets to consider these plans on Friday.

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