In the ongoing effort to hash out a nearly $29 billion state budget for the coming year, House Republican leaders are again suggesting that the state spend $100 million less than is projected to be available.
That's about half of what the GOP-controlled House initially wanted to leave on the table, but it's also not far from where negotiations broke down between the House and Senate in the final moments of the regular session Thursday.
The battle over the budget has spilled over into a special session this week, and the two sides appear to still be locked in impasse as the Monday mandatory special session end looms. The session costs taxpayers about $60,000 per day.
Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration voiced opposition to the latest House leadership plan before it passed on a party-line vote in the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday.
Senate Finance Chair Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said he had not yet reviewed the latest House proposal on Tuesday. "If it's what it was before, it's not going to pass the Senate," he said.
Leaders from Louisiana colleges and universities, the state Department of Health, prisons an…
After House leaders offered the $100 million figure last week, the Senate, which had initially voted in favor of spending all revenue available in the coming year, instead passed a resolution aimed at directing department heads to spend $50 million less than was available in the coming year to make up for any potential mid-year deficit. The House didn't vote on the $50 million plan, despite a dramatic, unsuccessful procedural play by House Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, to bring it to a vote in the final moments of the session.
"They never voted on it so I don't know what their position is," LaFleur said. "The compromise is out there; it just hasn't had a vote."
The House and Senate have generally agreed to fully-fund the popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students scholarships.
Both the House and Senate have Republican majorities, but House leaders are more conservative and the Senate is more closely aligned with Edwards, a Democrat.
House Bill 1 is now set to hit the House floor on Wednesday, where it could be further amended before the Senate gets its shot. The upper chamber can then return with another counter-offer or agree to the House plan.
House Appropriations Chair Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, called the latest House proposal "just about a 50-50 split."
After the bill made it out of committee, Henry said he wasn't sure about his offer's chances.
"They seem to be stuck on spending 100 percent," he said. "I think members are getting very weary with the special sessions."
The current session is the second special session called this year to address budget issues and the fourth special session since Edwards took office in January 2016.
A day after the Louisiana House dramatically ended the legislative session with no budget in…
Edwards has not formally called another special session but has indicated that he would if a final budget deal isn't reached again. There is also general agreement that the Legislature will meet in another special session sometime before March to address the looming "fiscal cliff" the state faces when a temporary sales tax hike expires in July 2018.
"He's trying to wear members down simply by calling special session after special session," said Henry, who has frequently been at odds with the governor on budget issues. "All we're trying to get to is for the administration to negotiate at some level."
The House had initially pushed for the state to leave about $206 million unspent in the budget that begins July 1 to provide a "cushion" in case the state experiences a mid-year deficit.
Repeatedly, Appropriations Committee members pointed to the state's 15 mid-year shortfalls in the past decade.
"I think $100 million is a pretty good compromise and I don't think that it's going to be less than $100 million," said Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington.
In addition to lowering that figure, House leaders have also dropped a controversial provision that would have required the elimination of vacant positions across government.
Leger, in the Appropriations Committee, attempted to pass a budget bill that mirrored the Senate's spending plan, though it was voted down on another near party-line vote.
Members could attempt an amendment on the floor that would pull the same maneuver but it would require some Republicans to break ranks and join the Democrats on the plan.
"I'm not sure where a lot of members are (numbers-wise), but I think we need to start doing something to adjust our expenses," Henry said, noting the fiscal cliff. "We have a significant budget shortfall looming."