The Louisiana House on Thursday advanced a state construction budget for the coming year after a dramatic delay that left lawmakers ending the regular session without a finalized version of the annual bill.
House Bill 2 created further tension between the House and the Senate as the bill died in the final hours of the regular session on Monday. House leaders refused to take up the bill that day, even as senators said they were baffled by the action.
On Thursday, a revived version of the bill that identifies hundreds of construction projects across Louisiana for state funding sailed through the House with little objection, now that the special legislative session is underway.
The latest version largely mirrors what the Senate had proposed but adds back a few House-priority projects that had been left out, said House Ways & Means Chairman Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans.
“The intent has always been to have HB2 put in the posture of the senate version, plus, as I call it,” he said.
But some objections remain, and it’s unclear what the Senate will do when it goes through and revises the bill next week.
The two sides have until June 23 to hash out a final agreement or hundreds of projects would go unfunded.
Rep. John Schroder, a Covington Republican and one of eight House members to vote against the bill, said he sees the whole process as too politically motivated. Ninety votes were cast in favor of the bill.
“I don’t like this process,” Schroder said. “I think it’s dirty. I think it smells.”
Lawmakers in years past have frequently stuffed the construction bill with more projects than the state could fund. That left the governor in charge of what stayed and what got cut.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has urged lawmakers to no longer put forward construction projects that have no chance of receiving funding from the Louisiana Bond Commission.
Abramson admitted the latest version of HB2 remains bloated.
“Whether we can pay for all this is another story,” he said.
But he called the latest revision a “step in the right direction.”
“We’re on the path toward right-sizing this,” he said.
The construction budget, referred to as “capital outlay,” is important to legislators because it gives them a chance to send money back to their home districts for projects.
Edwards, who called on lawmakers to curb their requests this year, has said he thinks the money available next year — estimated at $330 million to $500 million — should go toward road improvements and maintenance of state government buildings and buildings on college campuses.
Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, said the bill isn’t perfect but he voted for it.
“This is a work in progress,” he said. “It’s a good first attempt.”