The state Senate advanced a $25.6 billion state spending plan Thursday cobbled together with dollars from expected property sales, legal settlements and other one-time money sources.
House Bill 1, the state operating budget for the fiscal year that begins in July, breezed through the Senate on a 39-0 vote. The measure now returns to the Louisiana House, where it is certain to face resistance from a faction of Republicans. The two chambers have until 6 p.m. Monday to resolve their differences.
“I feel comfortable with the budget we’re proposing,” state Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, told the Senate on Thursday.
For the most part, agencies’ spending would remain standstill as the state continues to grapple with the effects of the national recession. Higher education would weather a cut.
The Senate zipped through the 329-page budget, completing debate in less than two hours.
As rain battered the Senate chamber windows, the mood inside was decidedly light compared to the tension exhibited in the House over the state spending plan. It took the Louisiana House two days to advance the budget after disputes arose over the amount of one-time money used.
One-time money is funding likely to materialize once. With revenue short of the amount needed to keep services at their current level, the governor wants to vacuum funds scattered across state government, sell property and use other nonrecurring dollars for expenses that must be met year after year.
Some House Republicans balked at the proposal and purged $267 million in one-time money from HB1. The House directed the Jindal administration to reduce travel and supplies and consider sending state employees home without pay for a few days to cut costs.
The Jindal administration countered that the House’s suggestions were unrealistic and would result in heavy cuts to health care and higher education. The Senate Finance Committee restored the one-time money to the legislation and found more nonrecurring dollars to lessen reductions made to higher education and health care because of state revenue collections failing to meet their targets.
The revamped version of HB1 prompted few questions on the Senate floor Thursday.
At Donahue’s request, the Senate amended the legislation to request the Jindal administration cut $15 million from the budget.
Donahue said afterward the amendment is his attempt to appease House members’ concerns that not enough reductions are being made.
“We want to show some empathy with the House in what they’re trying to do,” he said. “I guess that’s our olive branch.”
Even with the $15 million cut, the budget is more than $300 million plumper than the version advanced by the House. Other changes made by the House held in the Senate.
The Office of Elderly Affairs, which oversees funding designed to keep senior citizens in their homes, no longer would move from the Governor’s Office to the state Department of Health and Hospitals. Officials with parish councils on aging protested the planned transfer, saying they feared losing influence and funding under the bureaucracy of a much larger agency.
Gov. Bobby Jindal abandoned the proposed move after the House nixed it. However, the controversy claimed one victim. The Jindal administration fired the office’s director after she publicly criticized the planned move.
On another front, the governor can claim a partial victory at this point. Jindal wanted to close two prisons. So far, legislators have only agreed to close Forcht Wade Correctional Center in Keithville.
The state Senate batted away most attempts to amend the bill Thursday.
State Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, wanted to direct $9.9 million in federal funding toward giving salary supplements to a number of school professionals, including psychologists and social workers.
The state stopped funding for the supplements when the recession hit. “I understand the complexity and the difficulty, but it was an amendment that was brought to my attention,” Long said.
The Senate rejected the amendment. Shouts of “woof” erupted in the chamber when state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, pushed to carve out $6,100 for search and rescue dogs.
“I did it to myself. I’m trying to be a good guy,” Appel lamented to Donahue.
Donahue grabbed the microphone to object to the amendment. “I notice it’s raining cats and dogs outside. This amendment makes me want to howl,” he said.
That amendment also failed.
After zooming through bills that take care of supplemental needs in the current year and boost Senate spending next budget year, legislators tackled House Bill 2, the state construction budget.
HB2, the $4.3 billion multi-year capital outlay budget, easily cleared the state Senate and now includes a fix for a problem with the bill’s finances. HB3, the spending engine for the construction budget, is stalled in the Louisiana House amid disagreements over the one-time money in the state operating budget.
The Senate amended HB2 to include HB3’s borrowing authorization for construction projects.
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved