A bid to hold a constitutional convention aimed at tackling Louisiana's persistent budget problems failed Wednesday in the state House.
The vote was 52-47, or 18 votes below the two-thirds required.
The measure, House Bill 500, is one of a handful of proposals on the issue.
A growing chorus at the State Capitol is pushing legislation that could ultimately lead to an overhaul of areas of the state Constitution that…
But the action Wednesday, and the lateness of the 2018 regular session, means the push may be dead for the year.
The regular session may end before its scheduled June 4 adjournment date to start another special session, this one on the state's $648 million shortfall starting July 1.
It will be the sixth special session in the past two years.
"We know more than anyone else that our system is broken," said House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans and sponsor of the bill. "Our budget and finance system is broken, and our current constitution significantly affects that broken system."
Critics said Abramson's plan was riddled with unknowns, including the possibility that any gathering might launch into topics well beyond budget and finance issues, including public schools.
"There is really no reason to vote for this constitutional convention," said Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe and leader of the opposition.
Morris said that, among other risks, rewriting the constitution could undo the two-thirds requirement for the Legislature to enact tax hikes and the state's homestead exemption.
He said Abramson has repeatedly declined to spell out exactly what changes he would want to emerge from a convention.
Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said a convention might dangerously open up how Louisiana funds public schools, called the Minimum Foundation Program.
Abramson, who downplayed the concerns, said more than 50 percent of state general revenue dollars are obligated because of constitutional rules. That ties the hands of any administration at the start of the budget process, he said.
Critics have long complained that, when the state budget is cut, higher education and health care take the brunt of the reductions because they are not protected by the state constitution.
Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, praised the bill as the sole way for Louisiana to undergo needed, fundamental change. "We need a modern constitution for the future of Louisiana," he told colleagues.
Stefanski said the U.S. Constitution has only been amended 27 times in more than 200 years compared to 189 changes to the Louisiana Constitution in 44 years.
Abramson said that since 2008 the state has undergone 15 mid-year budget cuts totaling about $4 billion, including multiple reductions in a single year.
"Does that suggest to you that the system is broken?" he asked the House. "We have already discovered what does not work over and over and over again."
The Democrat said that, since the current document took effect in 1974, it has been amended 189 times, including 92 on finance and budget issues.
Rep. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, said while he likes the idea of a convention, how delegates would be picked and other details led him to oppose the legislation.
Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, praised the proposal and said it has been a goal of his entire stay in the House.
Abramson, who said he has worked on the issue for 10 years, wanted the convention to be held in 2020.
Any new document would then need approval from a majority of voters statewide to take effect.
During the nearly two-hour debate, Abramson implored colleagues to take a chance. "It is time for a new approach," he said.
"It is time to try a comprehensive approach to deal with the problem we are facing that can structurally fix our problem for the long term," Abramson said.
"Do not be driven by fear, the fear that something might change, could change and therefore we will live with our broken system," he added.
He argued that, while Abramson said a convention would result in more authority for local governments, that is not spelled out in the legislation.
"This is one of those bills that you have to vote for it to know what is in it," Morris told the House.
"I know lobbyists have been hired, and that is something to be suspicious about," he said of the push for a convention.