SW La. lawmakers split on budget

State House members representing Southwest Louisiana on Wednesday were split on their votes for the state budget bill that was approved and sent to the Senate. All Democrats supported it, and most Republicans opposed the measure.

Following several hours of debate, a 56-46 House vote approved an amended House Bill 1 by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie. 

Reps. James Armes, D-Leesville; Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur; A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles; Johnny Guinn, R-Jennings; and Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek; voted for the bill. Reps. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles; Stephen Dwight, R-Moss Bluff; Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville; and Frank Howard, R-Many, opposed the legislation.

Abraham said he voted against the budget because it did not hold back enough money to make sure agencies would not face mid-year cuts if the Revenue Estimating Conference’s forecast is off. House Republicans were wanting to hold back $100 million, but the legislation was amended to hold back $60 million.

“It seems to me we needed a bigger cushion,” Abraham said of the amount being held back. “I know we are not going to receive all the dollars REC is forecasting.”

Dwight agreed, saying he did not want to spend 100 percent of what the REC has estimated. He added that some lawmakers may have voted for the amended budget plan “just because they’re tired and don’t want to be here anymore.” This is the second special session so far this year.  

“At the end of the day it’s a process, and you have to accept it,” Dwight said. “I don’t think it’s a bad budget. I just would have liked to see it in a different posture.”

Both Abraham and Dwight said they have concerns about the legislation asking Gov. John Bel Edwards to ask state departments to hold back $60 million, instead of requiring those departments to withhold that money.

“It doesn’t say how to hold it back or which departments,” Dwight said. “There’s no teeth to it.”

Danahay said “cooler heads prevailed” despite “the conservative nature of the House.” 

“That was still at the forefront, but the consensus was we could get a budget that was close to a compromise,” he said.

Even with lawmakers approving a budget that appears to be a compromise, he said this spending plan was “the most difficult to get out of the House.”

“It has taken on a different tone,” Danahay said of the budget discussions. “It became a bigger fight than it should have been.”

Abraham said he was involved with negotiations with the governor’s office on the budget. He said he thought a compromise was near on a version to withhold $100 million, but “all of a sudden, it went south.”

“The positive thing is higher (education) and health care have some good numbers in it,” Abraham said. “I’m always working to help Southwest Louisiana, and I still believe this budget put us in better shape than we’ve been in in a while.”

Dwight commended Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, for handling H.B. 1 on the House floor on short notice. Henry, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, flew to Washington D.C., after Scalise, R-Jefferson, was shot at a baseball field in Alexandria, Va. Wednesday morning. Three others were wounded in the attack. “I thought (Foil) did a great job presenting (the budget),” Dwight said.

The Senate Finance Committee is set to meet at 9:30 a.m. today, with the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee meeting at 10:30 a.m. The full Senate will meet at 4 p.m.

The House will return at 4 p.m. Friday.