La. Senate passes budget using more dollars than House GOP wants

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - After very little debate and discussion, the Louisiana Senate passed their own version of the state budget for next year using more dollars than the House wants.

The plan fully funds the TOPS program. Higher education, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and state prisons are spared the knife.

The plan also calls for a 2 percent raise for 38,000 state workers, including probation officers. State agencies have said they are struggling to attract and keep workers, in part because wages have remained flat in recent years.

"This is a way for us to move in the right direction with regards to paying our employees sufficient money so we don't lose them," said Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte.

Still, several programs come up short under the plan, including the state's partnership hospitals that treat the uninsured, as well as mental health services.

"There are a lot of families, and children in particular, that are impacted by these cuts," said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, who amended the budget plan to add $2 million more to mental health funding.

Overall, the governor's office supports the Senate plan, calling it "responsible" and a great improvement over the House version. Unlike in the lower chamber, the Senate spends all of the money the state is expected to bring in next year.

In the House, hard-line conservatives set aside approximately $200 million to prepare for a possible shortfall down the road. The governor's office says doing that could put state services at risk.

"The budget that came over from the House was totally unacceptable and would have been vetoed," said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne. "It's not our intention to leave any dollars on the table because our needs are so great."

With House fiscal hawks opposed to spending all of the cash, however, the next few days of negotiations could become heated. Even so, House leaders remain optimistic they will meet the deadline.

"They want to spend more of it. We want to spend less. So we'll meet in the middle," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie. Henry chairs the House committee in charge of the budget.

Lawmakers have until Thursday, June 8 to reach a deal on the budget that the governor also agrees to. If they do not, they will be forced into a special session to continue to wrestle with the budget.

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