Just days after opposition from Republicans doomed a key piece of the governor's budget-solving strategy, House Democrats say they are still waiting for a credible budget plan from the chamber's GOP leadership.
Two House Republican leaders briefed Democrats Thursday on their ideas to head off next year’s “fiscal cliff,” when $1.3 billion in temporary taxes expire in the state's $9.5 billion portion of the budget, but members walked away uninspired.
“I didn’t hear a plan,” state Rep. Andy Anders, D-Vidalia, said after the meeting.
“I didn’t know any more than what I knew before the meeting,” said state Rep. Gene Reynolds, of Minden, the Democrats’ caucus chairman.
The Democrats praised House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and House Appropriations Chair Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, for meeting with them during their private luncheon Thursday to discuss the fiscal cliff.
“At least we’re talking about it,” said state Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Mansfield. But their plans “are still a little murky.”
The Democrats said Barras and Henry laid out the same broad outlines of a plan as described previously by The Advocate. It would fund next year’s budget at 97.4 percent of the current year’s budget as of March 1, with an extra $92 million or so to fully fund the TOPS scholarships and to provide funding to continue aid for programs that serve medically fragile children. The Republicans termed it a “standstill” budget that would spend no more money next year than this year.
The House is expected to unveil its budget plan on Monday, when it is taken up in the Appropriations Committee. The budget would then go to the full House and, once approved, to the Senate, where it likely will be revised.
Barras told reporters Thursday that he views that as the first step in the process.
"I think you have a much clearer picture on what you're shooting for current year and in the cliff year," he said. "If we try to hold on spending, it will greatly assist with what we are trying to do on revenue."
Two weeks into the 60 days of regular session, Louisiana House Republicans have settled on t…
But Democrats have pressed on the House Republicans to provide an outline for where they see opportunities for more revenue. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who had proposed a tax on corporate sales that gained little traction before it was shelved on Tuesday, has called on the Republicans to present their own plan.
"I'm looking for the House leadership to step up and offer solutions," Edwards said Tuesday. "Not just continue to say 'No' but to offer solutions and a plan."
Barras on Thursday said many tax bills remain to be vetted, with overlap on proposals related to income tax changes, sales tax and corporate tax.
"I think we have the menu that we need to have a healthy discussion," he said. "My hope is to get a good deal of that to the floor."
"To try to get a total comprehensive package is something we can build toward and work on," Barras added.
But Democrats remain concerned about the impact of a budget-cuts first approach.
“Before we can vote on something like this, we have to know who is going to be hammered,” Reynolds said. “They said the agencies would have to live within their means. But who loses?”
A standstill budget, Barras has said, would mean not funding a slate of “priorities” outlined by Edwards, including money for state employee pay raises, a boost to public schools and increased funding for the state's safety net hospital partnerships.
Republicans have for the past year said that they think the state budget is bloated but have yet to identify any deep-reaching structural changes to the state's spending structure.
Barras said the standstill budget would get the Legislature about $650 million of the way toward the $1.3 billion fiscal cliff. That could suggest Republicans are willing to raise up to $750 million in new revenue, or propose finding the money some other way.
“Their idea is to say ‘let’s do something,’ but they won’t give the details,” said state Rep. Ed Price, D-Baton Rouge, the Democratic caucus vice chairman.
Price remains concerned that the Legislature, before the June 8 adjournment, won’t settle on a solution to prevent the fiscal cliff.
“Whether you’re falling from 900 feet or 700 feet, you’ll hit the ground the same,” he said.
Republicans can pass the budget in the House without any votes from Democrats. The budget bill needs 53 votes, and there are 60 Republicans. But passing any revenue-raising bills would require a bipartisan super-majority vote of at least 70 members.
The House tax-writing committee, Ways and Means, is scheduled to meet again on Monday, after forcing Edwards on Tuesday to back off his major tax measure, House 628, a proposed levy on corporate sales.
Republicans hold a majority on the committee. The chairman is state Rep. Neil Abramson, a Democrat from New Orleans who has butted heads with his fellow Democrats in the chamber and Edwards.
Abramson has told members that he plans to take up bills grouped by their subject matter since the committee has more than 160 tax bills on its plate.
Barras said he suspects that there will be a winnowing of legislation. He has encouraged members to get together to discuss similarities and compromises between duplicative pieces.