Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards wouldn’t say early Friday morning whether he plans to veto language inserted into a supplemental budget bill that would effectively fund the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarships fully for the fall semester and less than half for the spring semester.
The so-called “front-loading” language was added in the final hours of the Legislature’s second special session on Thursday as the House and Senate bickered over spending priorities in the budget that begins July 1.
Edwards told reporters during a news conference that he was mostly pleased with the work of the state Legislature during his first six months in office, which has included two special sessions and a regular session over 19 consecutive weeks.
“To a very large degree we were successful,” Edwards said. “We’ve made difficult choices and we’ve made tremendous progress.”
But he also expressed frustration in lawmakers’ inability to bridge the entire $600 million shortfall in the budget that begins July 1.
“It is still not a pretty document,” he said of the final version of the budget.
The state Legislature approved a $263 million supplemental budget bill with just minutes to spare ahead of a midnight deadline Thursday.
Edwards took aim at his critics and some last minute changes in the final budget documents.
“We’re going to come out of this stronger than ever,” Edwards said. “What we just finished was really the first half of a two year process.”
The supplemental bill allocates money on top of the budget that lawmakers have raised since approving a baseline budget in the regular session -- a practice Edwards called “irresponsible” but also wouldn’t say whether he plans to use his veto power to remove.
The final few hours of the second special session were tense as lawmakers debated spending priorities. In the final hour, as the House debated whether to sign off on what would be the final plan, an electrical surge sent the chamber briefly into darkness and shut down the electronic sound system go down for several minutes.
Eventually House members agreed to the plan approved by the Senate, which fully funds higher education and the state’s safety net hospitals and cuts the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students by 30 percent, which will mean smaller scholarship amounts for students in the coming school year.
“I know the bill is not in the format that everyone would like,” House Appropriations Chair Cameron Henry, R-Metairie told the chamber, before urging members to agree to pass it before midnight.
The Senate leaders, too, said they knew the bill wasn’t perfect.
Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, joked that no one would be entirely happy with the spending plan.
“The idea is we come up with an agreement that no one likes but everyone has to vote for,” LaFleur said. “That’s just how it goes at this stage in the game.”