BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Starting to sift through the Senate’s budget proposal, House Republicans on Sunday objected to a range of its provisions and said they worried it would leave Louisiana vulnerable to another round of midyear cuts next year.
Though all signs pointed in that direction, House lawmakers didn’t immediately say if they’d reject the Senate’s nearly $29 billion spending plan to work out a final version behind the scenes in the final days of a legislative session that ends Thursday. Lawmakers seemed to agree, however, that they don’t expect a special session will be needed to settle any budget disagreements.
“I believe there’s a couple things that need to be adjusted in it, but I believe a special session would be unnecessary now,” said Rep. Jack McFarland, a Republican from Winnfield.
The House spending plan sought to leave $206 million unspent in the financial year that begins July 1, even though the state income forecast predicts the dollars will be available. Senators instead are proposing to spend all the money.
House GOP leaders say they want to give the state a cushion against their expectations the forecast is too optimistic. If the forecast comes up short, cuts would have to be made during the budget year that begins July 1. The forecast has come up short every year for nearly a decade.
“The idea of using 100 percent of funds, in my view, is a bad idea because history has proven it’s feel-good legislation. At the end of the day, you still have to cut,” said Rep. Blake Miguez, a Republican from Erath.
Alexandria Rep. Lance Harris, chairman of the House GOP delegation, agreed: “I do believe it’s going to bring on midyear cuts as it has for every year since 2009.”
Senators said leaving money on the table would cause damaging and unnecessary cuts now. They sought to protect college campuses that have been repeatedly hit with slashing, the child welfare agency and state prisons.
“This is what we would call an austere budget,” said Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, a Ville Platte Democrat who said the Senate budget proposal only funds “what is necessary.”
Both the House and Senate are majority-Republican chambers. The Senate passed its version of next year’s budget overwhelmingly, while the House largely divided along partisan lines in passing its version. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, supports the Senate’s spending plan.
Beyond the level of spending, Republican House members who helped craft their spending plans had other objections about the Senate budget.
McFarland disagreed with removal of language aimed at keeping agencies from filling vacant jobs to reduce spending. He and Miguez had problems with Senate inclusion of 2 percent pay raises for more than 38,000 state government workers.
“I have a big issue with giving pay raises across the board when the private sector is struggling,” Miguez said.
Rep. John Schroder, a Covington Republican, was bothered by a Senate plan to continue delaying a payment to health providers who take care of Medicaid patients. The delay started under former Gov. Bobby Jindal, keeping providers consistently one month behind what they are owed.
Senators said the House budget plan not only underfunded agencies next year, but didn’t fill $80 million in gaps in the financial year that ends June 30. That includes debts owed to local school districts and sheriffs that house state inmates in local jails and shortfalls created by agency responses to summer flooding.
“They basically left a hole in the budget,” LaFleur said.
The Senate proposes to cover those holes in a second financing bill it passed Sunday in a 36-0 vote and sent to the House. Sen. Jack Donahue, a Mandeville Republican, said without providing the $80 million, agencies would immediately have to start the new fiscal year by making cuts to close the lingering shortfalls.
House Bills 1 and 625: www.legis.la.gov
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