House passes state budget; negotiations begin on taxes

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The House of Representatives approved the newest version of the state budget Thursday. It would fund TOPS at 90 percent, fully fund higher education, but make significant cuts to the Department of Corrections and healthcare, including mental health services.

Wednesday night, the Senate Committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs removed business and industry exemptions from the bill, essentially creating enough revenue to cover the entire shortfall.

"As we sit here, I think members are still trying to digest what that actual amendment did as it relates to agriculture, to business in your area, and things of that nature," said Appropriations Chairman and budget author, Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.

The sales tax bill's author, Republican Caucus Chair Rep. Lance Harris, says the new version would not pass the House. Henry's budget assumes that state lawmakers will extend 4.3 percent of the state sales tax, which is the key measure that would cover a portion of the $648 million budget hole.

Even though the Senate found about $250 million more after their amendments to the tax plan, the House did not attach a single amendment to the state's operating budget that would spend that additional money. Almost all of those amendments were offered by Democrats and rejected along party lines.

Henry's budget only appropriates the dollar amount the original version of the tax deal would have raised.

"This is giving them false hope that this money actually exists. I don't think that's a message that we want to send," Henry said.

In previous special sessions, the Senate Finance Committee has amended the budget to match the amount of money available. The Senate will debate the tax bill Friday afternoon and could debate the budget this weekend.

Lawmakers have until midnight on Monday to find a compromise. If they can't, they'll likely be back for another special session.

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