Still no budget for Louisiana

BATON ROUGE — Lawmakers were deadlocked on the budget as the regular session drew to a close Thursday, forcing a special session called by Gov. John Bel Edwards 30 minutes later. House lawmakers will return on Monday, with the Senate coming back Wednesday.

House Bill 1, the 2017-2018 spending bill, went to a conference committee. It was signed by the Senate’s three members, but Speaker of the House Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, refused to sign the report. Henry heads the House Appropriations Committee.

As the clock ticked down, Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, made a motion to the full House so members could vote on H.B. 1. His motion carried 53-51, but confusion over parliamentary rules caused a delay that lasted until the regular session deadline. 

Nine Republicans joined Democrats to get the motion approved. 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 motion to hear the bill. Reps. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles, Stephen Dwight, R-Moss Bluff, Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, and Frank Howard, R-Many, were opposed.

After the session ended, Armes said that what happened on the House floor was “an embarrassment and a big waste of taxpayers’ money.”

“What a failure of a group of grown intelligent men who are supposed to be mature enough to make right decisions,” he said.

Dwight said he voted against the motion because he was still negotiating how much money to hold back in the budget. The Senate’s proposal initially called for appropriating $50 million to state departments and letting them hold onto it in the event of midyear cuts. The House countered, asking for the departments to withhold $100 million.

“I still wanted a standstill budget,” Dwight said. “I wasn’t willing to vote for the Senate version, but I wasn’t that far off. I think I got involved in (negotiations) too late.”

Dwight said a resolution passed in the Senate calling for the departments to hold onto their $50 million was good in theory but ineffective.

Abraham said the Senate’s budget proposal “went further than our standstill budget.” He said the House did not want to “spend more than we take in,” resulting in mid-year cuts.

“We were trying to be prudent with taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Senate reaction

Over in the Senate, lawmakers were exasperated at House lawmakers’ unwillingness to compromise on a spending plan.

“In my 18 years of serving in the Legislature, this is the most frustrated and disappointed I have been,” Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, said in a statement he prepared well before the 6 p.m. deadline. 

Johns, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, said the budget proposal offered by the Senate was “one of the most responsible that we have crafted for the needs of the people.” He said it included no new taxes, fully funded TOPS, did not cut higher education, “provided a standstill budget for disabled children and adults,” and prevented more than 4,000 prisoners from being released early.

“This is just bizarre,” Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, said of how the regular session ended. Morrish said he believed the Senate “diligently crafted a very good budget” that Southwest Louisiana House lawmakers were going to support, but they never got the chance to vote on it.

Governor’s remarks

During a press conference after the regular session, Gov. John Bel Edwards expressed his disappointment in the outcome and placed most of the blame on House GOP leaders who “chose to put party politics ahead of the people’s business.”

“It’s pretty clear that this was not our best day,” he said. “We just witnessed an epic failure in leadership. This was the time to act.”

Edwards spoke of a small group of House lawmakers who are dedicated to making sure the governor did not get a victory. He called the group a minority that was “well-positioned.”

“What a sad day in Louisiana,” he said. “They just need to grow up.”

Edwards said the House “has to solve their own problems” in terms of its leadership. He said both chambers adjourning until next week was “further evidence that they’re not quite serious.”

“They should be here working,” he said.

Edwards added he will keep the Legislature in Baton Rouge “as long as it takes” to pass a responsible budget.

“We have to keep working,” he said. “The people of Louisiana deserve it and demand it.”

Edwards said the budget failure should not overshadow successes during the session. One included the passage of 10 criminal justice reform bills intended to reduce the state’s prison population.

””State CapitalMGN Online

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