Sunday, June 16, 2024

Frustrated with budget outcome, Louisiana senators schedule public hearings

by BIZ Magazine

By Julie O’Donoghue, Louisiana Illuminator

Two Louisiana Senate committees have scheduled public meetings for Tuesday to review the state budget they approved a week ago but now say they didn’t totally understand at the time. 

Most legislators voted for the state’s budget bills — collectively hundreds of pages — though they were only given minutes to look at them. The documents were kept from almost all lawmakers until the final 30 minutes of their two-month legislative session, at which point House and Senate leaders urged them to pass them quickly.

“We didn’t have very much time to look at that,” Senate Finance Chairman Bodi White, R-Central, said of the budget plan. “Like about five minutes.” 

Since the session adjourned last Thursday, lawmakers have unearthed several concerns with the budget proposal.

Rank-and-file legislators were blindsided by a $100 million reduction to the Louisiana Department of Health that was not thoroughly discussed or vetted. Money for major infrastructure projects — such as upgrades to the Jimmie Davis Bridge in the Shreveport area and work for the port in St. Bernard Parish — were removed with no public explanation, despite being considered statewide priorities.

Funding for judges and courts was also reduced.

The infrastructure changes were made in an effort to punish conservative House members who tried to block legislative leaders from spending an additional $1.4 billion in state funding this year. The conservatives thought the state should be behaving more frugally and use more of that money to pay down debt than legislative leaders wanted. 

But the legislative leadership’s effort to penalize those conservatives and general secrecy around the spending plan has backfired since the session ended. Now several lawmakers — including allies of House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez — are angry. 

“I wasn’t even able to read the changes, didn’t have time,” said White, who is supposed to be in charge of the budget-writing efforts in the Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee, which White leads, will meet next at 1 p.m. Tuesday to hear from the Louisiana Economic Development agency and Department of Transportation and Development about the budget plan.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee is also meeting at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday to discuss the impact of the $100 million reduction to the Louisiana Department of Health.

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