BATON ROUGE, La. (LOCAL 33) (FOX 44) – The Senate Finance Committee Thursday green-lit their version of Louisiana’s $29 billion operating budget, restoring funding to health services, state prisons, veterans programs and child welfare programs.
The full Senate is poised to vote on the fiscal plan Saturday, with many legislators confident their work can reverse Gov. John Bel Edwards’ call for a special session.
That call first came Wednesday under a provision, that if he and lawmakers agree on a budget sometime before next Thursday at 6 pm, the governor would dissolve the extraordinary gathering, currently slated to begin 30 minutes later.
The sentiment from many senators is that they can still avoid one. “I don’t think there’s going to be the need for the special session,” said Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) “We’re going to work hard over the next seven days to get this budget done.”
Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego) remains similarly optimistic. “We would sure like to avoid [a special session],” Alario told BRProud.com. “I think it’s our responsibility to come up with a balanced budget during the time allotted, and I think cool minds will prevail and make that happen.”
Some hurdles still remain. While the Senate Finance Committee did restore dollars to prisons, foster care, and higher education, the proposed budget would still be without funding to mental health services.
“I’m struggling with fully funding [the TOPS college tuition program] at the expense of health care, especially mental health,” Sen. Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge) said.
But in what could mark a shift change as the regular session closes, Gov. Edwards has praised the Senate Finance Committee’s amendments. “Make no mistake, this budget will still impose painful spending cuts, but it does so in a way that won’t overly burden citizens of the state,” he said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “If the budget makes its way through the process, the need for a special session this summer will be greatly diminished.”