Capitol Views: House nearing passage of state budget

Lawmakers in the House spent most of today debating the state’s $24 billion budget for the next fiscal year. Between eating plates of jambalaya—courtesy of the organizers of the annual festival in Gonzales that takes place this weekend—and peppering various department secretaries with questions, they had by this afternoon approved one heady amendment after another that may not survive the Senate or the governor’s desk.

HB 1 by Appropriations Chair Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, contains the spending plan and will be sent over the Senate if approved later this afternoon, where the Finance Committee will get first crack at the budget. It’s not expected to be revenue neutral, as directed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, or fully funded, but lawmakers say it’s only the first step in a lengthy process that will play out in the session’s final three weeks.

As the budget discussion moved into the afternoon, colleges and universities were fully funded, as were the costs for underwriting the state’s public schools, thanks to a $50 million infusion. Programs at the Department of Health and Hospitals had all the cash they needed as well, but coming up short were Louisiana’s medical schools and the state’s public-private hospital partnerships. The budget included $17 million for the latter, but another $35 million is still required.

Lawmakers hope the difference will be made up on the Senate side, where senators are preparing to debate $615 million worth of revenue bills already passed by the House, including—but not limited to—a major tax increase on cigarettes.

The loudest budget amendment was sponsored by Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, and it would transfer $2.5 million out of the governor’s own budget to cover costs related to the State Police details that follow him around on his travels. James argued those travels have been extensive as Jindal mounts a possible presidential campaign while he “ignores the people of Louisiana.” The amendment passed 55-35, with 15 lawmakers not voting or being marked absent.

James said $2.5 million has been the average annual cost of the governor’s travel details over the past three years. But since the budget would cover the July 1-June 31 fiscal year, it would also impact the next governor. Jindal, however, would be the one with line item veto authority for the budget being debated.

When asked for comment, Jindal spokeswoman Shannon Bates Dirmann said, “We appreciate the work that State Police does for the governor and his family every day, and we’re grateful for their service. We leave all security determinations up to the State Police and we trust them to do their job.”

By a vote of 56-25, Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, also attached an amendment to the budget stripping $25.8 million from the public health office despite warnings from Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert that it would put into jeopardy health inspections for restaurants, day care centers and wastewater systems. Broadwater countered that the office has been non-responsive to requests from lawmakers and their constituents.

His amendment would redirect the money to a business assistance program, organ donor awareness, citizens with developmental disabilities, uncompensated care costs, hemophilia costs at teaching hospitals and other areas.

Lawmakers rejected other amendments, including one to expand the state’s Medicaid program, and another from Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, to dedicate $355,000 to voter outreach in the Secretary of State’s Office.

Jeremy Alford will publish a daily update throughout the legislative session on Daily Report PM. He reports on Louisiana politics at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.

There are no comments. Click to add your thoughts!