BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Eleventh-hour negotiations between the House and Senate over next year's $25 billion state operating budget continued Wednesday, with lawmakers still hoping to strike a deal before the session must end Thursday.
House and Senate leaders spent much of Wednesday out of public view trading ideas and seeking a compromise for the spending plan that will fund government services and programs for the 2013-14 fiscal year that begins July 1.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, said legislators are continuing to try to resolve their differences in the hopes of avoiding a special session.
"A lot can happen in the last two days," said Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
But lawmakers acknowledged an early morning meeting Wednesday between Republican leaders of the House and Senate didn't go well. Closed-door meetings then resumed a few hours later.
"Sometimes an airing of the problems lets people start considering not only what they need, but what other people need, too," Donahue said.
Robideaux's bills that trim tax breaks and create a tax amnesty program to drum up cash for the budget are central pieces of the talks, but he was keeping those measures stalled Wednesday, holding them back from being debated.
"I'm not pulling my bills off the calendar to fund the budget until we're patting each other on the back because there's a budget deal out there," he said. "It remains to be seen."
House leaders offered a list of budget proposals to senators on Tuesday. Donahue said senators were going through the list with House members, rather than offering a specific counterproposal.
Rep. Cameron Henry, a member of the conference committee working on the budget, said negotiators hoped to deliver a draft of the deal to all lawmakers by Thursday morning.
"Negotiations with the Senate have been going very well. We've had several meetings. Everybody seems to be on the same page of trying to get this budget done in the time frame allotted so we don't have to go to a special session. We're all acting in good faith," said Henry, R-Metairie.
Among the many disputes, House Democrats want a $68 million, 2.75 percent increase for the public school funding formula, rather than the one-time, $50 million public school teacher bonus backed by the Senate.
Meanwhile, House Republicans disagree with the level of one-time dollars from items such as land sales and legal settlements that are slated to pay for continuing programs in the Senate budget. They blame the use of such funding for repeated cycles of budget shortfalls.
Conservative Republican representatives, nicknamed the "fiscal hawks" also don't like changes the Senate made to a House bill seeking to limit the use of one-time money for ongoing expenses in later years. The Senate lessened the scope of the proposal and dropped it to a two-year pilot program.
The fiscal hawks, the black caucus and the Democratic caucus worked together on the House version of the budget that was rewritten by the Senate, and the unlikely alliance has continued as the House and Senate haggle over a final deal on the spending plans.