Republican leaders in the state House have moved forward with a deficit-closing plan that would make deeper cuts than Gov. John Bel Edwards has called for while relying less on the state's rainy day fund.
The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday agreed to send two budget bills to the full chamber for consideration — movement that came a day after lawmakers had attempted to hash out an agreement with Edwards, who had asked the Legislature to take $119.6 million from the state's reserves to help plug the $304 million mid-year deficit.
One alternative proposal, which is backed by House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, would instead only take $74.6 million from the state's savings account.
Henry's bill and a second committee-backed alternative, which would use no money from the rainy day fund, are expected to be taken up on the House floor on Friday, as the clock continues to tick on reaching a final solution.
Lawmakers have until midnight Wednesday (Feb. 22) to pass a budget stabilizing plan.
Any of the budget bills that start in Henry's committee and win approval in the House will then be vetted by the Senate.
During his monthly call-in radio show, Edwards acknowledged that the nine-day timeline for the special session was tight and the session has been “tough" so far.
"You always have posturing but at the end of the day we will come together," he said.
Edwards and House Republican leaders have been locked in a disagreement over how heavily the state should rely on its rainy day fund to fix the problem.
Use of the rainy day fund requires approval from two-thirds of the members of the House and Senate. It quickly emerged as a key issue in the session.
The state savings account currently has a balance of $360 million, but the Legislature can't take more than a third of that. The state is required to put at least $25 million back into the fund each year.
Tensions surrounding the rainy day fund fight, which had mostly taken place behind closed doors and through media accounts until Wednesday, bubbled over during the Appropriations Committee hearing with confrontational exchanges and accusations of insults as Edwards' chief budget architect, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, defended the administration's position.
House Republican leaders on Tuesday privately proposed covering a mid-year budget deficit in…
Edwards, a Democrat, had repeatedly challenged those who said they didn't want to use the maximum amount allowed from the state's reserves to propose additional cuts.
Henry and others met with Edwards twice on Tuesday but couldn't reach an agreement.
"He said 'No.' That was his side of the negotiation," Henry said during a tense exchange with Dardenne in the committee hearing. "We have proposed cuts; you all just didn't like them."
Dardenne said legislators could have made cuts to state services and reduced spending when crafting the budget during last year's legislative session.
"I don't need to be told what I need to do," Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, countered. "Don't sit there 10 years later and tell me how to do my job."
The budget-crafting panel spent nearly four hours Wednesday debating the state's budget outlook, Edwards' plan for plugging the deficit and the alternate plan proposed by Republican leaders that was ultimately approved in a 19-4 vote in committee. The second proposal, sponsored by Republican Baton Rouge Rep. Rick Edmonds, passed in a 17-6 vote.
Henry's plan ultimately would cut $4.6 million from the Department of Corrections; $7.5 million from K-12 education; and $6.2 million from funding for colleges and universities. Edwards' plan spared those areas of the budget.
The GOP leadership plan also would cut the Louisiana Department of Health beyond the budget changes Edwards had proposed.
"Tough times," Henry said of the state's budget outlook. "We can't spend more money than we make."
On Tuesday, the House Republican leaders pitched a plan to the governor that only took $50 million from the state's reserves.
A Senate committee on Tuesday advanced a resolution that would serve as a vessel for tapping the rainy day fund, but the full body didn't take up the measure when it met on Wednesday.
The House was also expected to begin moving legislation on Tuesday, but an Appropriations meeting was canceled as legislators attempted to negotiate with Edwards on cuts.
Henry said that the tight timeframe for the special session has put additional pressure on the Legislature to vet ideas. He said he expects amendments will be made even to his proposal on the House floor once other legislators have a chance to mull it over.
"We have to get something moving through the process," he said.