LSU Hospitals

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Gov. John Bel Edwards' chief budget adviser, speaks to the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors.

So much for that holiday spirit.

A new financial clash between Gov. John Bel Edwards and House Republican leaders should serve as a reminder that a budget and tax deal brokered only months ago wasn't a harbinger of camaraderie between the two camps, particularly entering the 2019 election year.

The Democratic governor and the conservative House GOP lawmakers who lead the chamber are still miles apart philosophically — and politically — about budget issues, even when there's more stability in state finances than Louisiana's seen in a decade.

The latest disagreement erupted in Louisiana's income forecasting panel, the four-member Revenue Estimating Conference, which determines how much money the state is expected to receiving from taxes, licenses, and fees each year.

House GOP leaders, represented by Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, successfully blocked an increase in the forecast that Edwards, Senate leaders, and other lawmakers hoped would pay for a $43 million list of spending plans, mainly on public safety programs.

Henry, sitting on the conference for House Speaker Taylor Barras, said he worried about financial uncertainty, questions about the federal tax rewrite's implications on state tax collections and a recent plunge in oil prices.

"We're concerned we're going to spend more money than we need to right now," the Jefferson Parish lawmaker said. "There's just a lot of volatility in the economy."

Economists for the Legislature and the Edwards administration recommended boosting this year's forecast by about $150 million and next year's forecast by up to $195 million. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Edwards' chief budget adviser, said Henry's refusal to lift income projections was aimed at stymieing the governor's spending plans.

"I don't think you can escape the politics that was involved in this little game," Dardenne said.

The income estimates, which must be approved unanimously, are used to build the state operating budget. Louisiana has been praised for creating the conference about 30 years ago. Financial analysts consider it a strong, nonpartisan budget reform.

But just like deal-making has gotten tougher in the partisan environment of the State Capitol, reaching unanimity on forecast decision-making apparently also will be getting harder among the panel's members: the commissioner of administration, the Senate president, the House speaker, and an independent economist.

The Revenue Estimating Conference has been used as a tool in political fights in previous years, but sparingly. The latest turn of events may indicate a long-term, entrenched politicization of the panel, an attempt by conservative House Republicans to curb spending by refusing to recognize money until late in the process, when more limits fall on the dollars' use.

Henry — and Barras in a follow-up phone interview — insisted the blocking of forecast changes stemmed from concerns that such decisions were premature in the financial year that began July 1. Barras said he doesn't want to fund the $43 million list now, have the income not pan out and lawmakers then have to make cuts near the end of the budget year.

"We've done that before, and that's a worse exercise," Barras said.

But Barras also acknowledged he also wasn't inclined to support funding the $43 million list.

"The point was some spending restraints needed to be incorporated" as part of the budget deal earlier this year, he said.

And that's where the Edwards administration and Republican Senate President John Alario bristle. They say the Revenue Estimating Conference isn't the place to argue about spending plans, but to determine the most accurate projection of income, based on economic modeling.

If Barras and Henry don't want to fund items on the $43 million list, Dardenne and Alario say, they should take that fight to the legislative budget committee, not stall forecast changes recommended by their economists.

"This is supposed be as scientific as we possibly can be," Alario said.

Beyond the $43 million list, the forecasting decisions have broader political implications.

If the conference doesn't boost its projections for next year soon, Edwards won't have the extra money he wants to use for a teacher pay raise in the budget proposal he'll release ahead of the 2019 legislative session, in the thick of a contentious election season.

Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000.