Budget negotiations stall as La. Senate rejects House leadership’s budget rewrite

(MGN)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) – Lawmakers are in a stalemate over the state budget after the Senate rejected a rewrite proposed by House leaders.

In that plan, House conservative fiscal hawks want to spend $150 million less than the plan passed by the Senate over the weekend.

Conservative fiscal hawks in the House want to set aside some money when crafting next year’s budget in hopes of preparing for a possible deficit in the future. Louisiana has seen several midyear shortfalls in recent years.

“I think its bad policy to create a budget around a fictitious number and then create this midyear catastrophe,” said Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington.

The Senate, by contrast, would like to spend all the dollars the state is expected to bring in next year. They are fearful those reductions could harm state programs.

Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, called the updated House proposal a “no-go.”

“I’m completely opposed to this plan and I don’t understand the rationale behind it,” she said.

Under the rewrite, corrections would receive $18 million less next year than in the Senate plan. Sec. Jimmy LeBlanc warned such a cut could lead to approximately 4,600 prisoners being released early.

Public colleges would receive $19 million less, thereby continuing a decade-long trend of cuts to the higher education budget. LSU President F. King Alexander says that would force him to close the university’s ag centers statewide.

Monty Sullivan, president of Louisiana’s Community and Technical Colleges, says that “is not the right direction” for the state. Over the past 10 years, he said community colleges have been forced to eliminate hundreds of programs and jobs.

The Louisiana Department of Health would also see less funding, putting mental health services, Zika prevention, and more at risk.

The Senate plan would have also provided a 2 percent pay raise for 38,000 state workers. The House plan would eliminate that raise. Many state workers have gone a number years without a raise, including parole officers, who were at the capitol pressing lawmakers to increase their paychecks.

That is something that conservatives in the House say the state cannot afford.

“You cannot spend invisible money, they’re talking about spending dollars that may not come in,” said Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath.

In a tweet, Governor John Bel Edwards described the House proposal as “no better than their first plan.” The governor threatened to veto that first budget plan, sending lawmakers into a special session.

In the original budget passed by the House, lawmakers would have left more than $200 million on the table, meaning the House GOP have conceded about $50 million so far as part of the negotiations process.

With the Senate now having rejected the House rewrite, negotiations now continue. Lawmakers have until Thursday at 6 p.m. to reach a deal on the budget.

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