The Budget Has Moved Past The Louisiana House Of Representatives

It was a somewhat interesting day on the floor of the Louisiana House of Representatives, as HB 1, the state’s official budget bill, advanced to the Senate on a 96-5 vote. A competing budget bill, HB 26 by Rep. Walt Leger, failed on a 42-58 vote.

What was interesting about the two bills was that Leger actually filed his bill before Henry filed the official budget bill. Leger’s bill as it was originally drafted would have appropriated all the money Gov. John Bel Edwards wanted for the next fiscal year, on the shaky constitutional theory that the state could only spend what it had and if the revenue didn’t materialize to spend any more it wouldn’t matter what was in the budget. That was novel, but unpersuasive – particularly considering that the Louisiana constitution requires the state to have a balanced budget.

Henry’s bill was more or less the same budget Edwards vetoed at the end of the regular legislative session, and it passed largely because the House Appropriations Committee chairman also brought some other supplemental appropriations bills which would account for some $396 million or so in increased taxes which passed the House, in order to fill some funding holes among various agencies not covered in the official budget. The bulk of those appropriations were contained in HB 35, Henry’s main supplemental appropriations bill, which passed on a 96-7 vote.

Meanwhile, Leger ran into more than an unsuccessful vote on his faux-budget bill, as he was questioned aggressively by some of the Republican members of the House about why he was bringing a competing budget bill. Leger, who has done this before, explained that he wanted to insure the House would have a chance to vote on a budget in the current special session; he amended his bill on the House floor to mirror Henry’s budget in pursuit of that stated aim. But Leger came in for a bit of skepticism from the chamber, as in particular Rep. Blake Miguez challenged his claim that he had no knowledge that a bill he’d authored to make minor changes to the law on internet sales taxes would be turned into a clone of the House’s sales tax bill authored by Rep. Lance Harris. Tomorrow both bills are scheduled for the Senate floor, where many observers believe it will be Leger’s bill moving forward and not Harris’ – Leger refused to express opposition to that development while denying he had any part of it. That didn’t satisfy Miguez and it didn’t appear to satisfy the chamber as a whole.

So tomorrow shapes up as a very interesting day at the legislature. While the Senate will debate the two identical sales tax bills and Senate President John Alario will engage a performance of “Let’s Make A Deal” in attempting to find some mechanism whereby he strips out enough of the lard the Revenue & Fiscal Affairs Committee applied to Harris’ $369 million tax bill to find enough Republicans to get him 26 votes, the House will be taking up six bills vetoed by Edwards after passage in the regular session…

BUDGETARY CONTROLS – Provides relative to the allocation of expenditures in the operating budget (EN NO IMPACT See Note)

BUDGETARY CONTROLS – Requires the reporting of positions and funding to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (EN SEE FISC NOTE GF EX See Note)

FUNDS/FUNDING – Prohibits the use of the Conservation Fund for any building acquisition unless the acquisition is approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (EN NO IMPACT See Note)

PORTS/DEEPWATER – Provides relative to the members of the Louisiana International Deep Water Gulf Transfer Terminal board of commissioners

CAPITAL OUTLAY – Establishes the Louisiana Capital Outlay Revolving Loan Bank to provide financial assistance to local governments and political subdivisions for certain capital infrastructure projects (EN SEE FISC NOTE SD RV See Note)

PLANNING/ZONING – Provides relative to the Louisiana Inclusionary Zoning and Workforce Affordable Housing Act. (gov sig)

Of those, the first three are most interesting – they’re a trio of good-government transparency bills which would essentially serve to give the House through the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget access to the same information about how the Executive Branch is spending money that the Executive Branch has. Essentially, what has been happening is a game of Hide The Ball by the governor and his Division of Administration; they refuse to allow the House to drill down into the administration’s expenditures and make a true audit, all the while representing that there is no waste in state government and demanding the House provide specific cuts. Those bills were aimed at giving the House a good opportunity to investigate how best to recommend those cuts…and Edwards vetoed them. The votes to override those vetoes will be quite interesting.

But of course it will be the Senate’s disposition of the sales tax bill, whichever one moves forward, which will be the real show. Harris has already laid down a marker that the $369 million in tax increases in his bill was more or less a red line for the House, and nothing more than that could get 70 votes for passage in that body. Few believe a fully “juiced up” bill coming back from the Senate with $650 million in taxes could pass the House, but should the number instead be less – $450 million? $500 million? $550 million? – nobody knows if Harris’ prognostication holds true. House members would get that bill over the weekend and be forced to decide whether to concur at a higher price to taxpayers, or send the bill to a conference committee to hammer out a deal that would involve a choice to ratify more taxes than they said they would support, or blowing up the session.

In that environment it’s hard to see how a true win can be had. But we’ll know how dire the situation truly is after the Senate meets tomorrow.

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