Legislative Report

Budget deal remains elusive in session’s final hours

by Mike Stagg

A budget compromise offered on Thursday morning by Speaker Taylor Barras to Senate leaders offers hope for a budget agreement but it remains to be seen as to whether Barras can deliver the votes in his chamber to get the deal done.

A budget compromise offered on Thursday morning by House Speaker Taylor Barras was viewed favorably by the Senate's leadership, but as of mid afternoon it was not clear that Barras could deliver the votes in his chamber to strike a deal that could avert a special session.

Just before noon, Senate Finance Committee chair Eric Lafleur sent a text to The Independent which said, "Speaker made an offer and the senate members are generally in favor."

Lafleur did not provide details.

In a conversation with a group of reporters off the Senate floor when the body broke for lunch, Lafleur defended the version of HB1 passed by the Senate but noted that it was beginning to appear that some House members were "trying to move the goalposts" with demands being made on the matter.

House Appropriations Committee chair Cameron Henry was quoted as saying he would not allow HB1 to be called up for a vote in the House if the version worked out by the conference committee (of which he is a member) was based on 100 percent of the Revenue Estimating Committee's revenue forecast for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

Henry is the author of HB1, as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. It would take some extraordinary parliamentary maneuvering to call up HB1 over his objection.

Lafleur told reporters that he can't understand Henry and House GOP Caucus chair Rep. Lance Harris' opposition to the Senate version of HB1.

"We gave them everything they said they wanted," Lafleur said. "It's an austere budget, we made cuts in every department. We provided a mechanism for how to handle mid-year cuts if they become necessary — just as we did this year."

Lafleur said that the House GOP Caucus' 97.5 percent solution to the budget — basing it on 97.5 percent of the REC revenue forecast — is a false economy.

"You don't save any money by only budgeting a percentage of the REC estimate," Lafleur insisted.

Lafleur said he had directed the Senate Finance staff to draw up the offer from Barras as a conference committee document which would be sent to the House.

After the House returned from its lunch recess, Henry made his way around the House chamber with a document in hand which he brought with him to conversations with the other two members of the House side of the HB1 conference committee. Those members were Barras and Democratic Rep. Patricia Smith of Baton Rouge — a surprise pick by Barras made on Wednesday. It was not clear that HB1 was the topic of the discussions, but that is the only conference committee of which all three are members.

Barras' naming of Smith to the conference committee might well have been a concession to Democrats in his chamber who have blocked that body's consideration of HB3, the bill that would fund HB2, the Capital Outlay bill. Barras also named New Orleans Democrat Rep. Joe Bouie to the conference committee on HB2. Bouie is chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.

The session will end at 6 p.m. If there is no agreement on HB1, the provisional special session called by Gov. John Bel Edwards will begin at 6:30 p.m. and can run through June 19.

Most legislators would rather go home, but the test of wills now pits the Harris/Henry tandem in the GOP Caucus versus Speaker Barras and the Senate. The are 144 members of the legislature. There are 180 minutes left to strike a deal.