Ahead of special session, La. Senate passes budget with hefty cuts

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(WVLA) – Deep cuts would hit more than a dozen Louisiana state agencies, as well as the state’s tuition aid program, under a $28 billion spending plan advanced Tuesday by the state Senate.

But despite the 27-10 vote of support, most Senators agreed that the proposal should never become law. Those voting in favor said the document shows why lawmakers should act, in the two-week special session that starts next Tuesday, to replace $648 million in taxes expiring July 1.

“This is not the budget we want,” Senate Finance Chair Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte) said. “But at least we spell out what it is that we want.”

Seeking to reverse House-backed slashes to safety-net hospitals and nursing home residents, the Senate proposed cutting funds to corrections, family services, the treasury and other state agencies by 24.2 percent. The spending plan would eliminate food stamps and food inspections, while closing parks and cutting the TOPS scholarship program by $69 million, or 30 percent.

“It’s a budget I don’t know that any of us will find acceptable,” LaFleur said.

Democrats who voted against the proposal said lawmakers should halt their budget talks until after they pass tax bills.

“It’s not fair to the people we serve,” said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans). “This is just an exercise in futility.”

Top aides to Gov. John Bel Edwards have similarly questioned why lawmakers continued negotiations without considering replacement revenue first.

“This is a fool-hardy exercise,” Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget adviser, told the Senate Finance Committee last week. “Why continue to perpetuate a debate that is unfixable until we go about the business of fixing it?”

The spending plan returns to the House for debate. The chamber previously advanced a budget that would have closed safety-net hospitals, while ending state aid that keeps tens of thousands of elderly and disabled Louisianians in nursing homes and at-home care.

Both legislative chambers historically broker a final budget before the regular session ends, but it remains unknown whether the House will consider the Senate’s version of the plan before this session ends Friday.

If both chambers agree on a budget this, it would go to Edwards for a final signature. The governor would not say whether he would veto a spending outline, were one to hit his desk this week.

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