June 16, 2017 11:31 AM

Photo by Robin May

A $28 billion-plus Louisiana operating budget won final legislative passage Friday, a week later than expected, after a stalemate in the spending negotiations forced lawmakers into a special session.

With a 26-9 vote, the Senate sent the bill to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who supports it. A package of state construction financing plans awaits consideration in the House, and if approved there Friday afternoon, the special session will end a few days earlier than the Monday deadline.

Senate leaders successfully worked to avoid rewriting or tweaking the operating budget, so it can avoid a second vote in the House after it narrowly won support there against the wishes of the House GOP leadership.

The spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 would keep most agencies free of cuts and fully fund the TOPS free college tuition program. More than 38,000 state government workers would get 2 percent pay raises, and dollars would be allocated for a new juvenile prison facility that had been vacant to finally open in Acadiana.

“It’s austere, but it’s smart and it’s reasonable,” said Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, a Ville Platte Democrat. “It’s a good budget.”

Prisons, state police, public colleges and the child welfare agency would be among those areas shielded from reductions. It would be the first time college campuses would be spared cuts to their state financing in nearly a decade.

Some programs would see cuts. Mental health services would get less money, as would a program for “medically fragile” children and the private operators of Louisiana’s safety-net hospitals and clinics. The reductions to the safety-net hospitals could possibly be shifted to the LSU medical schools whose doctors and students get paid to work at the facilities.

With a unanimous vote, senators also gave final passage to a bill that patches $80 million in budget holes — in prisons spending, education funding and other areas — before the current financial year ends this month.

The special session was called after Edwards, the House and Senate failed to strike a spending agreement in the regular legislative session that ended last week. It was the first time the Legislature wrapped up a regular session without passing a budget in 17 years.

The special session costs taxpayers an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 a day.

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