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Friday brings more delays to Louisiana legislature fixing budget crisis

Louisiana House of Representatives (Source: WAFB) Louisiana House of Representatives (Source: WAFB)
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

Friday brought limited progress at the Louisiana State Capitol in dealing with the state's budget crisis.

"If they don't move soon, if their lackadaisical approach continues over the next few days, we're not going to be successful," said Gov. John Bel Edwards during a morning press conference. 

Bill after bill were delayed on the House floor Friday afternoon, drawing the ire of several legislators. 

"It's almost like we're getting to that kick the can down the road situation again," said Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge. 

"We've been doing this for the whole week. It's just like we're sitting here not doing anything," said another representative. 

Others defended the pace by saying it allows them to catch mistakes. Rep. Cameron Henry cited new released Friday morning that the budget shortfall was larger than anticipated. According to the Legislative Fiscal Office, a bill originally forecasted to bring in $75 million would not in fact work. 

"If we had rushed that bill through the process, come Thursday and we would have found we were $75 million short, it would have been devastating for us," Henry said. 

As it stands, if all current revenue and cutting measures passed through the House were put into effect, the state would be left with a projected budget shortfall of approximately $142 million for this fiscal year. On the floor of the House, any concerns over that remaining number did not heed much action. 

Legislators voted against HB 27, which would have increased the tax on alcohol for the first time in decades. With amendments, the tax would have brought in an addition $6.7 million before the end of the fiscal year. 

"If the sales tax, we're going to have one of the highest sales tax in the country, and now we're going to have the highest alcohol tax," said one House member. 

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate delayed and then finally voted unanimously to approve the cuts in HB 122, but only with a series of amendments. The original bill, which included more than $70 million in cuts, would have gutted the Department of Education by slashing $51 million from their budget. The Senate amendments restored $49.5 million of those cuts to education

Rep. Cameron Henry, who drafted the original HB 122, rejected those amendments because they reduce the overall cuts to $7 million. The House voted to send the bill to a conference committee where lawmakers from both the Senate and the House would have a chance to find compromise. 

Another revenue bill, the increase to the sales tax, also returned to the House with Senate amendments and was sent to committee. 

Although the clock is ticking down, legislators said they remain cautiously optimistic. 

"We're going to continue to go to the table and work. We're talking to the Senate and we're talking to the House Republicans. I'm hoping we'll get to a place where we all can agree," said Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans. 

"The House is on a good path right now to be able to finish the state's business in well enough time but also be able to do so without making any mistakes," Henry said. 

The Senate and House are scheduled to meet throughout the weekend. 

Copyright 2016 WAFB. All rights reserved.

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