Louisiana lawmakers near deadline to pass state's operating budget

With less than two hours to go, it's unclear if they will be able to pass a budget before adjourning.

BATON ROUGE (La.) (AP) - On the second-to-last day of Louisiana's legislature, lawmakers overcame a major obstacle in drafting the state's financial plan by voting to exceed the constitutional expenditure limits. However, as the clock counts down to adjournment the legislators must still pass a budget.

Louisiana's financial problems under the former governor lasted for years. Bobby Jindal forced legislators to make cuts in the budget. Now, with an extra $2.2 billion, lawmakers are debating what to do with the funds.

The two chambers have been at odds for weeks over whether or not they should breach the state's spending restraints, which were incorporated into the constitution of the state in the 1990s as a way to curb the growth of operating costs.

House members initially opposed this plan, wanting the extra money to be put in savings accounts to use for future purposes and to pay off debt. After pressure from the Senate and as the deadline for adjournment neared, the Louisiana House lifted the spending cap to $1.65 billion.

The question is: How will the operating budget actually look?

Louisiana Governor. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat from Louisiana, outlined a spending plan of $45.7 billion for 2023-24. Edwards suggested using the excess money to fund one-time projects in transportation, raises of $3,000 for teachers, pay off disaster debts owed to federal government and offset expiring federal funds used to provide access to early learning.

The GOP-dominated House, however, advanced a plan to cut the pay raise for teachers and the investments in construction. It also proposed additional funding for early childhood education. The money was instead used to pay down retirement debt. Republican lawmakers described the proposal as fiscally sound and said it would allow school districts to use funds in the future as they see fit, including raising teachers' salaries.

The Senate budget plan included some of Edwards’ proposals, such as $2,000 increases in teacher salaries. The Senate's budget plan reinserted some of Edwards' proposals, including $2,000 teacher pay raises.

The House rejected Senate amendments and sent the budget to the conference committee. This is a closed door meeting of three legislators from each chamber in hopes of reaching a compromise in the last hours of the session.

The House will vote on the budget at 6 pm Thursday.

A special session could be called if a budget plan fails to pass or Edwards rejects a fiscal plan approved by the Legislature. A three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate is required to pass the budget.