Members of the Legislature’s budget-writing committees jumped feet first into the regular session’s second day with meetings for House Appropriations and Senate Finance, but legislators waded cautiously around the issue of incoming revenue.
More information could surface, however, when the Revenue Estimating Conference meets at the Capitol.
Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, says the money tied up in the REC process will be critical for agencies like State Police and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “It is impossible to proceed without recognition of some of that revenue,” he says.
Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, says, “We need to recognize some of it, but not all. If the REC can’t come to a decision tomorrow, they’ll have another opportunity in May.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards and Democrats in the Legislature want the panel to recognize $122 million for the current fiscal year and $90 million for the next.
However, the four-member REC panel, which determines how much money the state has to spend, has been deadlocked since January. Members include House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia; Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego; Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne and Dr. Jim Richardson, an LSU economist.
Barras has been the holdout on the REC, preventing lawmakers from officially budgeting the surplus that economists insist will be collected this year. The speaker has said that a delay is necessary for the panel to have the most precise numbers.
Barras’ sentiment was echoed by many representatives in the House leadership, such as Agriculture Chairman Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, who points to the recent history of mid-year budget deficits as justification for the delay. “The REC has been off too many times,” Schexnayder said.
Legislators are generally expecting another month’s delay, but some are hopeful that the panel will be able to come to a decision. “I’m somewhat optimistic,” says Rep. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles. “I would think that they would recognize the money at this late of a date.”
Asked what he thought, LaFleur added, “I don’t really know what to expect.”
Sounding a similar tone, Henry says, “I quit making those predictions a long time ago.”
Rep. Bubba Chaney, R-Rayville, offered this read of the situation: “I think there will be a robust discussion and in the end, the speaker will listen and then make the right decision. As far a prediction, my crystal ball is out of order.”
Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon on Daily Report PM through the end of the legislative session. The report is also available to subscribers at LaPolitics.com.