State Legislature

Smart or sabotage? La. lawmakers split over revisiting budget debate

BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA / WGMB) - Louisiana lawmakers won't start their third special session of 2018 until Monday. But already the claims of crashing the caucus are flying.

House Republican leaders plan to reconsider the state's full budget next week, prompting backlash from Gov. John Bel Edwards and ranking senators. Opponents say lawmakers already passed a $29 billion spending plan earlier this month, and that re-opening debate would only tighten their 10-day window to pass taxes.

Edwards issued his call for the session last week, focused on renewing sales taxes leaving the books July 1. He wants lawmakers to extend half of the expiring revenue, while some House Republicans only remain willing to replace two-fifths of the cent.

The governor's guidelines for the session are meeting split interpretations, with Senate leaders viewing the call more strictly. The only budget matters they want to consider involve distributing replacement revenue to state programs, and they questioned whether lawmakers can return the full budget to the floor this session.

"I don't think the call allows for the entire budget to be re-opened," Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego) told this week.

House Republican leaders claim Edwards' call stretches further, letting them draft a supplemental bill to change funds to the state's Department of Health. Legislators had largely shielded the department — namely safety-net hospitals and nursing homes — from cuts under the budget they passed last session. But leading conservatives on the House Appropriations Committee want to re-examine whether the agency's funds should go toward other state programs.

"Until I see some cuts, reductions in spending and more efficiency, I'm not going to vote for a tax," said Rep. Valarie Hodges (R-Denham Springs), the panel’s vice-chair.

The current spending plan would cut the TOPS tuition program by 30 percent, if replacement revenue measures fail. College campuses would face a nearly $100 million reduction, while non-health agencies would largely be subject to pro rata cuts. Cracking the budget back open would let lawmakers revise their spending priorities, namely toward higher education, without reliance on tax bills.

"This will give members a chance to figure out which agencies should get more appropriations," said House Appropriations Chair Cameron Henry (R-Metairie), adding that the House clerk finds such budget talks permissible under the governor's call.

Edwards' spokesman Richard Carbo accused House Republican leaders of rescinding on the budget they passed and taking the session's June 27 deadline too lightly.

"It would be a waste of time and hint that they're trying to rut out the clock and sink the session again with just days remaining until the end of the fiscal year," he told The Advocate this week.

The governor also questions the germaneness of resurrecting the budget this session, according to his legal team. Though chief counsel Matthew Block has argued that the Legislature has ultimate say over interpreting the governor's call, which leaves a more expansive budget debate possible. Whether the House and Senate will ultimately agree on agendas, however, remains unknown.

Latest News