Supplemental budget bill heads to governor's desk as second special session ends

Lawmakers continue budget debate as end of special session approaches
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - If viewing this story on a mobile device or in an email, click the link for additional features, including the full video of Gov. Edwards press conference after the special session ended -

Debate over what to do with the money raised this session went well into the evening at the State Capitol as the session ended less than 30 minutes before the midnight deadline.

Leaders from both the House and Senate met throughout the day to discuss the budget plan for how to distribute the $263 million raised during the second special session before passing the supplemental budget plan. The House gave final passage to the bill with a vote of 56-43 shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday.

Gov. John Bel Edward said lawmakers needed to raise $600 million to fill the budget shortfall. Added to that, top economist in the state estimates that corporate taxes will generate $200 million less in the current fiscal year that will have to be dealt with in the next fiscal year starting July 1.

The Senate first adopted the bill with a vote of 38-1, adding an amendment that front loaded TOPS. The amendment would allow the scholarship program to be fully funded in the fall with only 42 percent funding for tuition in the spring.

The plan relies on the state generating additional revenue from things like rising oil prices, but if no more money comes in, students could be forced to foot a big portion of tuition.

Senators appeared somewhat reluctant to adopt the amendment and said they felt they were being held hostage by House Republicans.

"I don't wanna go home again and explain to people why we didn't get the job done, and it's been told to me anyway that this is probably the closest thing we have to get the people on the other side to adopt this bill and to move it forward," said Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metaire.

Many Senate Democrats objected to the amendment, however, saying that is falsely suggest to constituents that TOPS was fully funded.

"We're gonna leave here with not enough money for TOPS, not enough money for healthcare, not enough money for the MFP, not enough money for mental health, not enough money for anything," said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans. "Nothing's fully funded. So don't try to cover it up with a little fluffy amendment."

There was much debated in the House about the amendment with some wanting to remove the language from the bill. However, the bill was approved with the amendment still intact. It still could be removed with an line-item veto by the governor.

The budget plan allocating the dollars ultimately included several shortfalls compared to the governor's request. Many lawmakers from both parties expressed frustration that they had not raised more revenue during the session.

"A lot of us sought to get more revenue to bring TOPS to 100 percent, to fund the universities, and to give healthcare a lot more money," Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego. "We couldn't get the agreement to raise it to that much, so what we have we'll have to live with."

However, a solid group of House Republicans were reluctant to raise any more taxes and blocked many of the revenue proposals.

"These agencies and departments have more than enough money to fund what they see as a priority. The $600 million that the governor wanted, that's to fully fund every agency at the agency's wish list," Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metaire. "That's the target amount that they would like to have. You can't fund government at the amount they'd like to have."

The approved plan would protect the state's partnership hospitals that treat the uninsured, while other agencies would still be short like Corrections with an $18 million cut.

While in the final proposal, public K-12 education received an additional $20 million next year, however, it is still left $24 million short.

"For those people out there who want government to shrink, government will shrink be painful, but that's just the reality of it going forward," said Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans.

"You obviously want to maintain the services, but you have to hold the agency heads for the exorbitant amount of the money they have to say they always cut these vital services," Henry said.

Higher education received a little additional money compared to earlier plans, in part to compensate for money that was set aside specifically for Grambling and Southern from the overall fund.

Another source of disagreement was between funding for public K-12 schools and private schools. Under the final plan, vouchers and private schools receive additional funding then in the Senate Finance plan in order to appease certain House members.

The Senate passed a bill Thursday morning without a "Hail Mary" amendment that would have generated millions in new revenue next year. Alario said the votes were not there on the House side to amend HB 50 to bring in an extra $88 million next year so he did not want to force the member of his chamber to take a vote on an amendment that would ultimately not be approved in the House.

Also Thursday morning, the Senate unanimously passed HB 51, which returns exemptions to the sales tax for things like Girl Scout cookies and tickets to high school football games.

During his press conference after the session wrapped up, the governor said he is not anticipating a third special session.

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