The state Senate spent Father’s Day tackling a proposed $25 billion state operating budget.
The narrowing window on the 2011 Regular Legislative Session prompted the Sunday gathering on a spending plan that will fund state government operations in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The Senate voted 36-2 to send House Bill 1, the main budget bill, to the House for concurrence, or agreement, on changes.
HB1 now is neither the spending plan that Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed in March nor the version that the House crafted.
The House can reject the Senate’s changes or send the legislation as is to the governor for his signature. A rejection would force the Legislature to appoint a handful of lawmakers to work out a compromise.
The Legislature adjourns Thursday at 6 p.m.
“We’ll send it across the hall and hope for concurrence,” said state Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Senate President Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan, said the Senate can be proud of the budget bill that the chamber crafted to fund hospitals, schools and other state services.
The Senate debated a number of changes to HB1. Members agreed to delete $500,000 for food banks across the state and add $5.5 million for nonpublic early childhood programs.
The addition of the money for the early childhood programs drew cheers from supporters in the Senate chamber’s audience.
Other amendments generated controversy.
State Sen. Fred Mills Jr., R-St. Martinville, tried to amend the legislation to ensure that the Louisiana Poison Control Center would receive $1.2 million in funding. His amendment possibly would have taken money from the LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport.
“Where do you live?” state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, asked Mills.
“Breaux Bridge,” Mills responded.
Adley then asked Mills what possessed him to think he knew how to manage money better than the LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport.
Mills withdrew his amendment.
State Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, offered an amendment to order the Jindal administration to redo a $300 million Medicaid contract.
Some legislators are unhappy that the administration was secretive about the contract that ultimately went to CNSI, a company with ties to state health secretary Bruce Greenstein.
Peterson said she wants a credible contract process.
“You should all be uncomfortable,” she said. “I didn’t say take the money. I didn’t say don’t give it to CNSI.”
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, objected, saying the contract is fair and appropriate.
The amendment failed with 10 senators voting for it and 26 voting against it.
Jindal wanted to deal with a $1.6 billion shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year by selling prisons, reshuffling tobacco settlement dollars and shrinking state workers’ pay.
Some of those proposals struggled in the House, where a number of lawmakers objected to using what they characterized as one-time money for expenses that must be paid year after year.
The House replaced the dollars that the controversial proposals would have generated by making more than $200 million in cuts across state government. The Jindal administration responded that prisons would close and the needy would go without health care services.
The Senate Finance Committee then tackled the bill and listened to state agency leaders’ complaints about the House’s cuts.
The panel’s members said they tried to maintain the spirit of the House’s version by matching one-time money to one-time expenses. The shuffling — including the use of $55 million in leftover hurricane recovery funds — resulted in a restoration of the $200 million in funding that the House cut.
The committee also found dollars for judgments, including a sizeable claim stemming from a 1983 flood in Tangipahoa Parish.
House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, seemed largely satisfied with the changes.
The session ends Thursday, leaving little time to work out differences on the budget.
Michot said the Senate tried to protect higher education and health care.
“I can tell you personally over the last four years, this has been the most challenging budget cycle we have been through,” Michot said.
Adley took a jab at the Jindal administration by noting that the Senate was able to balance the budget without raising tuition, selling prisons or taxing state employees.
“I just want to stand here and tell you I told you so,” he said.