The state Senate unanimously approved Wednesday Louisiana’s nearly $39 billion spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
House Bill 1, which authorizes spending for the state’s annual operating budget, and related measures quickly cleared the Senate with little debate. They were rushed across Memorial Hall to the House for the lower chamber’s concurrence of the changes.
House and Senate leaders, who worked together in order to decrease the usual friction between the two chambers, expect final approval from the House soon in hopes of getting the bills to the governor on the legal timeline that would allow an override attempt before the session ends should Gov. John Bel Edwards use his line-item veto.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Bodi White, R-Central, thanked Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, for doing what was necessary to give the Legislature "more of say in how this state is run."
In an unusual break from the us versus them competition over how taxpayer dollars should be spent, House and Senate fiscal leaders met over the lunch, prior to the Senate convening at about 1:30 p.m., hammering out the amendments the House wanted included in the budget bills. House and Senate staff then spent several hours dotting “i’s” and crossing “t’s” to ensure the legislation could be returned to the House without need for further changes.
Passing the nine bills, which usually fills the entire day, was finished in about 30 minutes.
The plan is to get the bills on the governor’s desk before Friday, which would be 11 workdays before the annual session adjourns on June 6 and all the lawmakers go home.
Matthew Block, the governor’s executive counsel, however, questions whether the state Constitution would allow lawmakers to override any possible gubernatorial veto during the regular session. Article III, Section 18 of the Constitution sets a 10-day deadline for a governor to act on a bill once it's finally passed and 12 days to return a veto message while the Legislature is in session. But the Constitution also sets a veto override session 40 days after final adjournment, unless declined by a majority of lawmakers, “to consider all bills vetoed by the governor,” he said Wednesday.
For the first time in years, the Louisiana Legislature has to account for more than $3 billion of extra money because tax proceeds are better than expected from a booming economy, hurricane recovery spending, and federal dollars to help rebound from the COVID pandemic.
Hoping to avoid the pitfalls that led to years of deficits the last time the state was so flush – following recovery spending after the 2005 hurricanes – the Democratic administration and the Republican-majority Legislature tried to funnel much of the additional money into one-payments that would lower retirement debts, add to savings accounts to tap on a rainy day, boost a wide array of neglected infrastructure projects, and take care of maintenance that has been long deferred.
The Senate voted 38-to-0 on all nine "money" bills that authorize spending nearly $39 billion on ordinary expenses, plus ancillary expenses, to fund the judiciary and the legislature as well as construction projects and revenue sharing with local governments.
Louisiana law requires the amount of the spending plan be the same as the amount of recognized revenues and that the legislation accounts for every penny. Louisiana receives a good deal of money from the federal government and other sources.
The amount of revenues from the state general fund – which is fed by state taxes, royalties and fees – is $11.04 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, which is slightly less than the amount from this year. General fund dollars pay ongoing expenses for education, healthcare, prisons and other government operations.
Lawmakers allocated $300 million to a new Mississippi River bridge to be constructed somewhere between Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge and the Sunshine Bridge near Sorrento. Edwards wanted $500 million, but Senate President Page Cortez pointed that route hasn’t yet been narrowed from 10 proposals.
Senators also allocated $200 million to the new Lake Charles Interstate 10 bridge project, which Edwards had only proposed giving $100 million.
They set aside $200 million for the proposed Interstate 49 South connection from Lafayette to New Orleans and $150 million for a road and bridge “preservation fund” that will pay for upgrades to existing infrastructure.