BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - With less than a week left in the latest special session at the state capitol, Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards is having difficulty getting his way on his plan for erasing the latest budget shortfall.
The powerful House Appropriations Committee, which is dominated by Republicans, rejected Edwards' plan for wiping out the $304 million dollar deficit, refusing to advance it to the full State House for consideration. This as the session must wrap up by midnight February 22.
That prompts concerns that this latest special session could end without resolution of the money shortfall.
"Obviously we're not working towards that, you know. I think you've seen what the House has done to this point. We're working towards a compromise," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
The governor has proposed using nearly $120 million of the state's so-called Rainy Day Fund plus millions in budget cuts.
Republican favor deeper cuts and want to use less of the Rainy Day Fund dollars.
"We're sending a good signal to the governor and everyone that, look, we wanted zero. You want $119 million. We're meeting you more than half. It's a good place to be," Rep. Henry stated.
The house committee did advance a resolution by Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras involving the state's Bond Security and Redemption Fund. It would take nearly $100 million from funds related to statutory dedications and free that money up for other areas of the state budget.
"First of all, it is not a fund sweep. It is not a fund sweep," Barras said.
But Democrats see problems.
"Part of those problems are that some of the funds that are discussed are things like the Tobacco Tax Match Fund which is used to draw down federal match to provide health care services. One of these funds is the Hospital Stabilization Fund which is used to draw down federal match dollars like you said. One of them is TOPS. The Millennium Trust Fund which funds TOPS," said Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.
Governor Edwards pushed back with stronger words.
"Raiding the Bond Security and Redemption Fund is a dangerous, back-door gimmick that has the potential to seriously threaten the state's credit rating. This is an especially precarious time to be taking money from TOPS and the Transportation Trust Fund, as this proposal does, given that our state faces a massive infrastructure backlog. If these members want to make cuts to these programs, there is a much more transparent way to do it that doesn't cause unnecessary harm to the state. I continue to believe that the full use of the Budget Stabilization Fund is our best option to solve this problem until we make the reforms our state needs in April. As legislation makes its way through the process, I'll continue to work with members of the legislature to find agreement to eliminate our shortfall," Edwards said.
"If we choose to give and appropriate the million dollars back to TOPS or we choose to give the $65,000 back to Elderly Affairs we can do all that as a back-fill," Barras said during his presentation.