BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - In Baton Rouge, it was clear Thursday that many state lawmakers do not want to repeat what happened in the waning hours of the regular legislative session last week, when they failed to approve a new operating budget for state government.
On Thursday the Senate Finance Committee voted 8 to 3 to approve the almost $30 billion budget that the House approved this week, fending off attempts to amend the legislation which fully funds the popular TOPS Program and sets aside more dollars for state-funded higher education.
"We were able to put in some additional funds for higher education. We think that in the long run that helps in a couple of places. It helps keep tuition down. And it also provides, the university would be able to keep some much-needed research professors at the University," said Sen. President John Alario, R-Westwego.
The Senate committee's vote came after an attempt to amend the house budget bill HB 1 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell.
"It does provide for the deficit-avoidance plan to be approved by Joint Budget [Committee], it has the approval of the Commissioner shall notify the Treasurer of the amounts necessary withhold from each department and agency so there's an agency specific plan," said Hewitt.
Unlike the budget the House passed during the recently ended regular legislative session, the latest proposal appropriates all of the revenues the state treasury is projected to receive during the new fiscal year which starts July 1, but in a compromise it also will have state agencies save $60 million just in case revenues come up short. A move designed to avoid a mid-fiscal year budget cut.
"Why wouldn't we have it at a high number in anticipation of what has been historically the shortfalls we've experienced?" asked Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.
"Sixty [million] became the number that was acceptable to the House, we think that's an acceptable number and we would hope that it's acceptable to you in order to get this impasse resolved," said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne.
Amending the House approved budget on the senate side would require that it be returned to the House for concurrence, something a lot of state lawmakers do not want to risk.
"We have a motion to adopt Amendment 24 to which I'm going to object for the main reason that I have a very important baseball tournament week, and I'm going to be there and I don't want another back to back session and at this point any amendment would jeopardize that process," said Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, prompting laughter.
"I heard something this morning that does not speak for me and that is we're interested in going home. I'm interested in doing what's best for the state of Louisiana," said Sen. Appel.
The full Senate could consider the latest budget bill Friday.