The Standstill Budget Is On Its Way To The House Floor

We talked about the Republican budget strategy at the Louisiana legislature this morning while bemoaning the fact there were stragglers in the House GOP delegation who are still fiddling about with tax increase proposals, and that strategy has now been codified – not into law, per se, but into a budget bill which successfully made it to the House floor today.

A press release from Louisiana GOP executive director Bo Staples, who seems in good spirits regarding today’s activity…

Republican lawmakers in the House Appropriations Committee successfully amended and passed HB 1, the state’s spending plan, on a 17-5 party-line vote. House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry (R- Metairie) provided a package of amendments that transformed the bill to a “standstill” budget, freezing state spending for next year at the current year’s level, with the exception of some constitutionally mandated increases.

This budget accounts for spending 97.5% of estimated revenues, and is intended to avoid another mid-year deficit. In committee this morning, Representative Blake Miguez (R- Erath) pointed out that budgeting in this conservative manner actually helps to protect healthcare and higher education funding, helping to avoid a special session to address a mid-year deficit, where these two entities would be put on the chopping block.

Representative Franklin Foil (R- Baton Rouge) provided an amendment to HB 1 that fully funded TOPS. Governor Edwards’ initial budget failed to fully fund TOPS to the tune of 82 million dollars. This amendment passed 19-5, with the nays coming exclusively from the Democratic members of the committee.

“The standstill budget that was passed out of committee today is the first step towards solving Louisiana’s spending problem. I commend the Republican legislators for their efforts to freeze state spending and to ensure Louisiana keeps its promise to our high school students.”- LAGOP Chairman Roger Villere.

We’re told the prognosis is pretty good for getting the “standstill budget” to passage in the House. When it goes to the Senate and into the hands of Senate President and gubernatorial flunky John Alario and the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Democrat Eric Lafleur, that prognosis becomes a little less sanguine. After all, if the Democrats on the Appropriations Committee in the House are any barometer of that party’s thinking, a standstill budget isn’t all that popular with them.

But as we said this morning, if the House refuses to pass any tax increases the standstill budget might be all the Senate has to work with. If they want to add more spending per Gov. John Bel Edwards’ wishes they’ll have to pay for it with accounting tricks.

Or they’ll just send back a budget which is out of balance, and force a conference committee and a Louisiana version of a shutdown fight. How that would work is the House and Senate refuse to agree on a budget before the end of the legislative session, and Edwards then calls a special session to begin immediately after this one ends. He then demands tax increases to raise money to pay for the Senate version of the budget.

We don’t know that there is a tax increase of any kind which can get a 2/3rds vote of support in the House. As we talk to Republican legislators what we increasingly hear is that a standstill budget is a commitment in this session and they won’t be moved from it. There is a sense that slowly, party discipline is beginning to take hold on the standstill budget – at least in the House.

Later this week the budget is slated to hit the House floor. If it’s a party-line vote the way it was in the Appropriations Committee, it’s going to pass.

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