Without much time to spare, the Senate met Sunday, approving a state budget for next fiscal year, and the additional revenue to help pay for it.
“We’re just trying to provide status quo," says Finance Chairman, Senator Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte).
The Senate’s proposal would fully fund TOPS and higher education, and protect funding for the state’s safety-net hospitals and nursing homes.
In order to pay for the plan, the Legislature would need to raise $540 million in taxes.
“At the end of the day, we chose to raise the minimum amount of money it would take to fund important things in state government," LaFleur says. "It does come at an expense to other programs.”
For example, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Economic Development would each lose 2 percent of their state funding.
The Senate has agreed to raise more than $500 million by taking the one penny in state sales tax that expires June 30 and maintaining half of it for seven years. That drops the tax rate from 5 percent to 4.5 percent, says Senator Brett Allain (R-Franklin).
“This will give us the ability to fully fund TOPS, higher ed, graduate medical education, hospitals, children and family services, and other services that would otherwise not be funded," says Allain.
But lawmakers in the House still have to approve the change, and that’s likely to be a challenge. So far, House members have only agreed to raise $400 million.
If the Legislature raises less than $540 million, LaFleur says they’ll make proportional cuts to certain state services, like TOPS.
In a statement Sunday night, Gov. John Bel Edwards says he’s confident the Legislature can get the work done on time.
The budget and sales tax bill are now in the hands of the House. Lawmakers have until midnight to reach a compromise.