Housebudget

The Louisiana House Appropriations Committee takes up the budget bill for the special session on Monday, June 12, 2017.

Advocate staff photo by Bill Feig

The Legislature is taking a “fresh start” with the budget, House Speaker Taylor Barras told reporters Monday morning, on the first day of activity during the special session, and said he expected the full House to vote on the bill Wednesday.

Barras, R-New Iberia, also disputed comments from Thursday by Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, that the budget plan supported by the Senate and Gov. John Bel Edwards that day had originated with him in a meeting they had that morning.

“It certainly wasn’t my idea,” Barras said, referring to a proposal to have the state spend 100 percent of the available money during the upcoming fiscal year but direct state agencies to withhold $50 million as a contingency. Barras also told reporters, after the House adjourned on Monday morning, that he didn’t think the plan could win support in the House on Thursday, the final day of the regular session.

The House negotiators – Barras and Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie – favored a budget that contained an actual cut in spending of $100 million to have, they said, a cushion in case state revenues are less than anticipated once again.

Barras was asked to support the plan backed by the Senate and Edwards during the session’s final chaotic 30 minutes but on Monday he said he didn’t do so because he wasn’t well-enough versed in the specifics.

“I did not have a lot of time to read through it,” Barras said. He said that proposed budget might have won approval if it had reached the House at 2 pm – four hours before adjournment – instead of at 5:15 p.m. “There are some members who felt like they needed to vote on the budget bill.”

Barras and Henry spent about 30 minutes talking with Alario and LaFleur, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, in the Senate chamber beginning at 3 p.m. on Thursday and again for 10 minutes at 5 p.m.

Barras and the House leadership faced criticism over the weekend for how the regular session ended. On Monday, Barras said he felt “comfortable where I am.”

Barras also addressed rumblings that conservative Republicans will try to replace state Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, as the speaker pro tem, the second highest ranking position but one with few specific powers.

Leger angered some Republicans by attempting three different times – as the minutes ticked down Thursday afternoon – to get the House to approve the Senate-backed version of the budget. Leger was unable to get an actual vote on the bill, amid indications from procedural votes that he was close to the bare majority he needed.

Barras called Leger “a great colleague” and said he didn’t expect Leger to be removed. But he declined to answer whether he would oppose such a move.

Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @tegbridges.