Striking a conciliatory tone, House lawmakers started advancing a new multibillion-dollar construction budget on Tuesday, after tanking the Senate's version in the waning minutes of the regular legislative session.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Neil Abramson was largely blamed for the House's refusal to pass the $4 billion budget bill Monday. A day later as lawmakers began a special session, Abramson had an early morning meeting with Senate leaders still bristling over the bill's jettisoning. And then, he quickly moved a similar bill out of his committee.
To explain the delay, Abramson and House Speaker Taylor Barras said Senate changes put the bill in such disarray that it needed an overnight rewrite. Senators accused the House of refusing to negotiate over the bill Monday. Abramson hadn't met with his counterpart in the Senate to explain his concerns until Tuesday.
"The point of this is not to affect the projects. It's just to get the technical and legal stuff right," said Abramson, D-New Orleans.
The state construction budget passed by lawmakers each year, known as the capital outlay bill, pays for state-financed roadwork, economic development projects, college building repairs and other local projects favored by lawmakers. To keep projects from stalling, lawmakers need to have a new bill approved by July 1.
House leadership's refusal to pass the bill before the regular session ended — and the decision to drag it into the tricky tax debates of a special session — drew angry criticism from senators and from some House members, who unsuccessfully tried to force a vote on the bill.
Lawmakers in the House, both Republican and Democrat, publicly worried their leaders' handling of the construction budget would damage their ability to work with the Senate in the special session, as they try to raise money to balance the state's operating budget.
Frustrations still were evident Tuesday.
Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, brought the dispute up on the Senate floor.
"To me it's absolutely incredible that we let one person or a handful of people over there thwart the business of this state," he said.
Senate President John Alario, who had criticized the House's handling of the bill, urged his colleagues to move on.
"It's time for us to move forward and do the people's business," said Alario, R-Westwego.
Barras, R-New Iberia, described the reworked version of the construction budget "a cleaner bill" that doesn't run the risk of invalidating projects or state borrowing plans. Senate leaders said that was never a threat.
The Ways and Means Committee agreed to the construction budget without objection Tuesday, sending it to the full House for debate. Barras said he hoped quick passage in the House would mend any damaged relations with the Senate.