BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Senators had a mixed reaction Thursday to proposals sought by conservative House lawmakers to rewrite the laws for how Louisiana estimates and spends its money and how the state's annual operating budget is created.
The Senate Finance Committee refused to insert the ideas into the state constitution and limited the remaining proposals to two-year pilot programs.
The package of five bills by mainly Republican lawmakers nicknamed the "fiscal hawks" was part of a House budget compromise.
The Finance Committee advanced two to the full Senate for consideration, including one that would limit how lawmakers and the governor could use certain patchwork financing for ongoing programs and services.
Senators said they were concerned about embedding untested changes in the process for crafting the state's annual operating budget into the constitution. They shelved any proposal that was a constitutional change.
Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, chairman of the committee, said he wanted to be responsive to House members' concerns, but he called it "risky" to change the constitution before knowing if the changes were workable.
"We're interested in the same thing that you all are," he said.
Sponsors of the proposal said they were trying to add stability and transparency to the budget process and end the cycle of repeated shortfalls. They blame a broken budget process for causing repeated and devastating rounds of cuts to health care programs and public colleges.
The measures strike at Gov. Bobby Jindal's continued use of piecemeal funding, like dollars from land sales and legal settlements, to balance the budget.
One proposal advanced to the full Senate would require the state's income forecasting panel to determine which dollars are expected to appear year after year. Lawmakers would be limited in how they could spend one-time money, and they wouldn't be able to spend dollars not recognized by the Revenue Estimating Conference.
Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, chairman of the House Republican delegation, said that would give lawmakers a better knowledge of what dollars are available and certain for spending.
"This bill would lessen the likelihood of end-of-year cuts," he said. "What we're trying to do exclude is what can be defined as contingencies."
Another measure that received the backing of the Finance Committee would allow for more scrutiny of dollars that are earmarked to programs required by state law or constitution, by separating those out in the budget bill to show over which funds lawmakers have discretion.
Senators refused to agree to a bill setting up a detailed timeline for handling the budget so that lawmakers couldn't pull it together in the final hours of a legislative session.
Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, said lawmakers in the House wanted time to comb through Senate changes in time to override any line-item vetoes from the governor without needing a special session.
"We don't like being put in the corner on the last day of the session," he said.
Donahue said the House gets substantially more time than the Senate to review the budget, and he wasn't interested in restricting that time even further. He said the House kept the budget bill proposed by the governor for 81 days, while senators got the amended version from the House for 18 days.
Senators did agree to a House-backed measure that would shrink the state's expenditure limit, to slow possible growth in the state budget.
"I think this is a reasonable amount. It appears to give us the available play that we need," said Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego.