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Senate Set To Consider What Lawmaker Calls 'Pretend' Budget

Wallis Watkins
The debate over the state budget will continue to the Senate Floor, after changes were made in the Senate Finance committee.

Lawmakers in the Senate are ready to consider the state's budget, now that it has passed the Senate Finance committee.

The committee made changes to the budget last week, but without much enthusiasm. Finance Chairman, Sen. Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte), called it a "pretend" budget.

"This is the craziest most cockamamie budget we could ever pass, but it helps us to demonstrate the magnitude of the problem," said LaFleur. "You lose a billion dollars of revenue, you can't just continue to operate, even under status quo."

Their version would fund many of the health care programs that were cut in the budget that passed the House, like the state's safety net hospitals, and a Medicaid program that allows thousands of elderly to live in nursing homes.

"The way it came from the House hurt tons of people, the most fragile people," said LaFleur. "But we're replacing them at the expense of other basic, core services that are in state."

In order to make it work, the committee took nearly 25 percent from more than a dozen state agencies. TOPS suffered another cut as well.  It's now 70-percent funded.

Even though the budget passed unopposed, members aren't suggesting it should become law. But by making changes, they let their funding priorities be known.

Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego) pointed to the tug of war between funding for higher ed and health care, saying, "if we have to make a choice, we chose life first."

Pearson Cross, Associate Dean of Liberal Arts at University of Louisiana at Lafayette, says now, the trick is for the House and Senate to find common ground.

"If the budget the Senate sends back to the House is very much out of line with House priorities, I don’t expect them to finish a budget before the special session," said Cross.

Most lawmakers agree getting the budget out of the Legislature will take a second special session and more revenue. Gov. Edwards is aiming for that special session to start in about one week.