State budget talks open in new session

Straight answer hard to come by

Members of the House Appropriations Committee once again heard testimony on how budget cuts would impact state agencies, and one state lawmaker voiced concerns about officials not providing a specific amount that could be withheld.

During Monday’s meeting, Rep. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles, said he “could not get a straight answer” from Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne about how much money could be held back from the departments. 

“I need a number,” he said. “We need to know what percent from the agencies can you cut. I was a little concerned they could not give me a percent.”

After failing to pass a budget before the regular session’s June 8 deadline, lawmakers returned to Baton Rouge for the second special session this year.  House GOP leadership wanted to cut $100 million from state agencies, while the Senate wanted to appropriate $50 million to the agencies, but have them not spend it unless there was a mid-year cut.

Abraham said the committee members didn’t hear anything during Monday’s testimony that they hadn’t heard during the regular session. At this point, he said lawmakers have their minds made up on where they stand in terms of the budget.

While some agencies may face cuts, Abraham said he has a feeling higher education will be spared of cuts because it is “an economic engine.”

Abraham said lawmakers cannot rely on the Revenue Estimating Conference because their projections have been wrong 19 out of 22 times.

“It would be prudent to hold back some dollars,” Abraham said.

Abraham said House lawmakers want to get a budget proposal to the Senate by Wednesday.

“I know people in Southwest Louisiana and the state think we can’t reach a compromise,” he said. “Our job is to solve the problem, and I hope we accomplish it.”

So far, the mood at the Capitol was less tense than during the final days of the regular session last week, according to Abraham. He added that it was a “good strategic move” to have lawmakers break for the weekend and return Monday, instead of resuming budget talks the day after the regular session ended.

“It was a chance for tempers and personalities to cool down,” he said. “There is a better atmosphere in the House. If we would have met on Friday, we would have been at each other’s throats.”

The House Appropriations Committee resumes its meeting at 10 a.m. today, with the full House meeting at 5 p.m. The Senate is set to meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The special session must wrap up by June 19.

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