House pushing back on Senate budget
By MELINDA DESLATTE
BATON ROUGE — Devising the budget in the Louisiana Legislature is often an elaborate game of chicken, with the House and Senate challenging each other to see who will relent to avoid an end-of-session meltdown. Usually the House yields rather than risk a special session.
Now, many House members angered by years of just taking what the Senate gives them are pushing back. They want significant changes to next year’s $25 billion spending roadmap, or they’re threatening to force the debate past the Thursday regular session deadline.
If lawmakers can’t reach a deal by 6 p.m. Thursday, it would be the first time in 13 years that lawmakers couldn’t finish the budget during their regular work period.
House and Senate leaders said Monday they continue to talk in hopes of reaching a compromise to pay for state government operations and services for the 2013-14 fiscal year that begins July 1.
“I still think that by Thursday we’re going to come out with something. I don’t think anybody wants to go to special session, but the one thing I am hearing from people is that they’re willing to do it. They’re not going to pass something horrible to avoid a special session,” said Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, a leader in House budget talks.
The Senate reworked the final pieces of its budget proposal Monday and sent them to the House for consideration. The House hasn’t decided how it will proceed — but Republican and Democrat leaders in the chamber don’t support the Senate version.
“There are conversations that are taking place in the hopes that something that we do appeals to them and would allow us to be able to present a budget and go home on June 6,” said Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, who handles the budget in the Senate.
Gov. Bobby Jindal hasn’t weighed in publicly so far, and House leaders said the governor’s office hasn’t sought to mediate a compromise.
Among the many points of contention, House Democrats are unhappy that dollars for the public school funding formula remain flat, while dollars for the state’s voucher program that sends students to private schools with taxpayer dollars would increase.
House Republicans disagree with the level of patchwork, one-time dollars from items like land sales and legal settlements that are slated to pay for continuing programs in the Senate budget. They blame the use of such funding for repeated cycles of budget shortfalls.
Conservative GOP lawmakers in the House also don’t like changes the Senate made to a House bill seeking to limit the use of one-time money for ongoing expenses in later years. The Senate lessened the scope of the proposal.
“I think anything that happens is going to happen in the last two days. But both sides are going to have to compromise, and right now both sides are pretty dug in,” said Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and a chief negotiator of the House budget.
Lawmakers in the House spent months out of session working on their budget proposals. They said the Senate discarded too much of their work — and too much of a bipartisan compromise that they spent weeks crafting and that received overwhelming approval by the House.
“I think (the Senate) maybe didn’t realize how strongly we believe in what we did and how strongly we would defend what we did,” Geymann said.
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, warned her colleagues that the Senate wouldn’t be able to outmaneuver the House and run out the clock this year.
“There’s an opportunity for us to get this done before Thursday so that we don’t have to come back, if we listen — truly listen with an open mind — on the will of the House,” Peterson told senators.