Here’s one possible reason why the House spent 14 tough hours hammering out its version of a state budget, and the Senate breezed through its own debate in just about one hour:
Some House members are holding out hope that the state spending plan lawmakers will likely adopt by the close of this session will be definitive, and not just a rough draft awaiting drastic changes. But over in the Senate, where prevailing opinion is more closely aligned with the Edwards’ administration, most people think that the real shape of next year’s budget won’t emerge until the revenue-raising special legislative session that Gov. John Bel Edwards has called for just after the close of regular business next week.
At the center of the disagreement is a shortfall that still totals roughly $600 million, even after the Legislature raised $1.2 billion during an earlier special session (lawmakers are banned from adopting most money-raising measures during regular sessions in even-numbered years).
Finance Committee Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, and other Senate leaders are talking about raising an additional $300 to $400 million in order to fend off the deepest cuts to the safety net public-private hospitals and the popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students college scholarships, known colloquially at TOPS.
The Senate budget funded just 48 percent of TOPS, which House leaders such as Appropriations Committee Chair Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, had identified as a top priority. Should the Senate’s proposed reduction to TOPS survive a House/Senate conference committee and find its way into a final budget, it would give senators leverage to push for the tax increases that nobody wants but that some have resigned themselves to adopting.
Indeed, LaFleur more than tipped his hand during the short debate Wednesday, when he addressed his colleagues’ concerns over programs facing substantial cuts.
“Those are things we will address in the special session,” he said.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.