La. lawmakers enter special session after failing to pass a state budget

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - For the first time in about two decades, Louisiana lawmakers failed to pass a state budget during the regular session, forcing them into a special session to reach an agreement on state spending.

The last hour of the session was at times, chaotic, with lawmakers yelling on the House floor. Ultimately, the clock ran out, with lawmakers not agreeing to an operating budget - which funds state departments and programs - or a construction budget.

"We're letting politics destroy our ability to govern," lamented Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.

"I'm embarrassed. I'm embarrassed to be a part of this body," said Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge.

The dispute centered on about $50 million in an operating budget worth $29 billion, with conservative fiscal hawks in the House butting heads with the Senate and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

House leaders wanted to leave money on the table in next year's budget in hopes of being prepared for a shortfall down the road. Louisiana has seen many midyear deficits over the past decade.

The Senate and governor, meanwhile, wanted to spend all the money the state is expected to bring in next year. Otherwise, they say programs like mental health services and Zika prevention would be at risk. Higher education, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and more would also see cuts.

"The Senate plan was we would have to come back and find a way to pay for that budget, essentially spending money that we don't have," said Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany.

However, Democrats like Rep. James argued the Republicans are partially to blame for any upcoming midyear shortfalls, as they did not take advantage of an opportunity to create a more predictable tax policy. "We've had a midyear shortfall because Republicans ask for tax reform and then said no to it," said James.

Conservatives accused the governor of not negotiating. "It's unfortunate that he's dug in on this. It's not beneficial for us to be here for a special session," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.

The governor fired back, calling it "an epic failure of leadership."

"They're not hurting my feelings, they're hurting the people of Louisiana. They just need to grow up," said Edwards.

Lawmakers now enter a special session, with each day lawmakers meet costing taxpayers more money. They must pass a budget by the new deadline of June 19.

First however, lawmakers are going to take a long weekend. The House will not begin holding meetings until Monday. Meanwhile, the Senate will not return to the capitol until Wednesday.

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