House OKs budget with little discussion

No drama. No eleventh-hour deliberation. No hasty number crunching and haggling on the final day of the legislative session.

Within five minutes Friday, the Louisiana House sent Gov. Bobby Jindal a $24.6 billion state spending plan. The quick work left enough time in the afternoon to sneak in peeks at the LSU baseball game and to coo over a legislator’s grandbaby. The session adjourns Monday.

The House agreed to the Senate’s dramatic makeover of the budget bill. The version of House Bill 1, the state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts in July, that went to the governor’s desk is largely the handiwork of the Senate.

“It’s not perfect. I think it’s the best one we’ve had in the past three years,” said state Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, who sponsored House Bill 1.

State workers would get a pay raise. Additional dollars would go toward helping people with developmental disabilities. Former state Alcohol and Tobacco Commissioner Murphy Painter would receive nearly $300,000 to pay his legal bills after he was acquitted of wrongdoing for actions related to his state government job.

The Senate rejected much of the House’s work on the budget. Instead of relying heavily on cuts to contracts, overtime and other expenses, the Senate tasked the Jindal administration with implementing more than $70 million in creative cost-cutting ideas to make the bill balance.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, raised the only objections, complaining that HB1 sets up legislators to find nearly $1 billion in new revenue the following year. More than $900 million in recurring expenses will be paid with dollars likely to only materialize once.

Fannin acknowledged the issue but said it’s not an unusual one for state government. He said legislators have grappled with shortfalls ranging from $700 million to $1.8 billion in his seven years sponsoring the budget legislation.

“We have been able to work through it,” he said.

In a 75-22 vote, the House sent HB1 to the governor’s desk.

Jindal later thanked the Legislature for its work on the budget.

“This budget increases funding for higher education in order to help better prepare our students to fill the thousands of jobs coming to Louisiana. Other of our top priorities, including increased funding for K-12 schools, merit pay increases for state employees, and increased health care funding for individuals with disabilities also made it through the process,” he said in a prepared statement.

The House also tackled House Bill 1095, which funds the Louisiana Supreme Court and the rest of the judiciary. The Senate added $8 million for increased benefit costs and drug courts. In a 97-0 vote, the House agreed to the Senate’s changes, giving the bill final legislative passage.

But it wasn’t total harmony Friday as the House looked at the Senate’s changes to legislation. The House wasn’t thrilled with the Senate’s handiwork on the supplemental budget or the state construction budget. Additionally, legislators rejected the Senate’s spending spree with still-to-be-collected amnesty program dollars.

House Bill 1094, the supplemental budget, takes care of lingering needs in the current state budget year. Fannin said he has issues with language added by the Senate concerning the state’s Medicaid program, which provides health care to the poor.

The House voted 98-0 to reject the Senate’s changes, sending the bill to conference. A handful of legislators from both sides will try to reach a compromise before the session ends at 6 p.m. Monday.

The House also had problems with the state construction budget.

House Bill 2, the capital outlay budget for the upcoming fiscal year, was out of balance by $13 million when it left the House. Now, the bill contains $400 million more in projects than the state can afford.

The House rejected the Senate’s additions on a 96-0 vote. Like the supplemental bill, HB2 will go to a conference committee.

House Bill 663 extends a tax amnesty program that gives taxpayers a financial incentive for paying disputed or delinquent taxes. They would get a break on penalties and interest.

The Senate tacked on obligations for the uncollected proceeds, spending some of the expected money on an economic development program and higher education. The House rejected those changes Friday.

Follow Michelle Millhollon on Twitter, @mmillhollon. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/