Louisiana Special Session Ends with Budget Deal

BATON ROUGE, La. (LOCAL 33) (FOX 44) - Louisiana lawmakers concluded their second special session of 2017 -- their fourth since Gov. John Bel Edwards took office -- with a $29 billion budget plan in place for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The session ended a few days ahead of its Monday deadline, after lawmakers failed to reach accord before the regular session's deadline last week.

"I think the taxpayers were ready for us to go home last week," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte). "But I think this past week kind of brought everybody together."

The budget, as passed Friday in the Senate with a 26-9 vote, would keep most agencies free of cuts, while fully funding the TOPS college tuition program for the first time in nearly a decade. More than 38,000 state employees would get two-percent pay raises. Additional dollars would go toward state police, public colleges, child-family services and an unopened juvenile prison facility in Acadiana.

The spending plan is not without cuts, particularly to healthcare. Mental health services and private safety-net hospitals would receive less money.

"It's a prudent budget," Gov. Edwards told reporters Friday. "It's a conservative budget, and I'm proud of that."

Perhaps the biggest compromise in this budget involved leaving funds unspent. House Republican leaders had spent the better part of the regular session demanding the state reserve $206 million. Senate leaders and the governor had argued to spend all available funds. The final agreement appropriates all the state's money, but it instructs state agencies to set aside $60 million, in case the year's revenue projections fall short.

"It's just like me, far from perfect," Sen. Norby Chabert (R-Houma) told fellow lawmakers Friday morning."But I'm trying."

Legislators must still address the $1.2 billion in temporary tax revenue that expires next July. It was first thought that would be a topic for another special session before next March. But referring to the stalemates of the regular session, Gov. Edwards said he's not sure House Republicans would be productive in a special session.

"Until I can be reasonable assured that a special session would not result in the same inaction, the same failure of leadership, why would I call one?" he said.

The governor suggested lawmakers may be able to construct a budget that would leave $1.2 billion absent. He calls it a way to solve the so-called fiscal cliff without the costs of a special session. Extraordinary sessions cost taxpayers roughly $50,000 a day.

 


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