On a rare Saturday work day, the Senate moved bills, tackled the state construction budget and then broke for lunch.
The main feature comes this afternoon, when legislators turn their focus to the $25 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
State Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, gave legislators an overview of the state spending plan and assured them that he will go department-by-department through the massive bill.
House Bill 1 is the main budget legislation.
After the overview, Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, told legislators to take a short lunch break. Lunch was provided for them.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s aides grabbed chairs on the sidelines of the state Senate chamber early in the day, watching as legislators rejected the governor’s plans to sell a lot near the State Capitol.
Amendments to House Bill 2, the capital outlay spending plan, contained a few lines that pave the way for the Legislative Auditor’s Office — instead of a private citizen or company — to receive the lot. A new building would be built, replacing the parking lot erected after the state demolished the old Insurance Department building.
The governor still would have sway over the budget that funds construction projects, including in pockets of the state important to individual legislators.
The state construction budget now contains $300 million more in projects than the state can afford. Jindal will decide which projects move forward to the State Bond Commission for borrowing.
With HB2 on its way to the House for concurrence, the Senate can focus on another fight.
The House and the Senate are at odds on how to balance a state operating budget that funds health care, higher education and other public expenses.
The governor presented a budget that heavily relied on property sales, legal settlements and similar one-time dollars to fund the state’s public colleges and universities.
The House purged those dollars and made more than $100 million in cuts, modified tax breaks and created a tax amnesty program aimed at encouraging thousands of taxpayers to settle their tax disputes.
Once the bill reached the Senate Finance Committee, more changes were made.
The committee unraveled all but $30 million in cuts, keeping some reductions in state government travel and supplies as well as decreased dollars for the Medicaid program that provides health care to the poor. Tweaks were made to the tax break modifications. The amnesty program sailed through after legislators purged language that would have doubled the penalties for taxpayers who refuse to participate.
Legislators in the Senate likely picked a fight with the House in where they got the money to reverse spending cuts and add even more spending, including community services for the disabled. One-time money for ongoing expenses came back into the budget and more legal settlements materialized.
This afternoon, the entire chamber gets an opportunity to have input into the spending plan.