Today we vote on HB 1, the budget bill, on the House Floor.
In order to become law, HB 1 must get voted on and passed through the House Appropriations Committee, the full House of Representatives, the Senate Finance Committee and the full Senate. In order to get from one step to the next, it can be amended to a version that is acceptable to the majority of legislators voting on it. It is the obligation of members of the legislature to approach this matter with utmost diligence and to propose a responsible honest budget-one that can earn the support of at least 53 members of the House and 20 members of the Senate.
As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I have always taken this responsibility seriously. Unfortunately, in the very first step of the process on Monday, the Appropriations Committee failed to honor this obligation by an 18-5 vote. When faced with the task of appropriating additional revenue of $346 Million, much needed relief in the face of what was initially a $1.38 Billion fiscal cliff, 18 out of 25 members voted mostly along party lines to appropriate 71% of the new revenue to solely to fund the TOPS Scholarship Program.
While I consider TOPS an extremely important initiative, it should not be funded at the expense of the Department of Health, which is slated to receive $646 Million in cuts, jeopardizing our public-private partnership hospitals, graduate medical education, children, the elderly and putting those with disabilities directly in harm’s way. This is why I offered an amendment appropriating $212 Million of the additional revenue to the Department of Health, $25 Million to colleges, $50 Million to TOPS, $10 Million to Go Grants, and $35 Million to sheriffs and district attorneys. It would not have solved our problem, but it was a responsible and reasonable attempt to be honest with the people of Louisiana about what is possible at this time and it was representative of the needs of Louisianans. Unfortunately, it failed to be adopted.
As with all things, there are some needs that should be prioritized before others. Basic needs come first. Lives come before scholarships. But ultimately in the real world, in the rational world, our state revenue is insufficient to meet any of these basic needs adequately. So, to make us choose between healthcare and education, public safety and the children, the elderly and the disabled is a false choice. On June 30, 2018, when temporary taxes in the amount of close to $1.4 Billion expire, the state will fall of the cliff unless further action is taken. The choice of what we do then is the real choice that matters.
I, along with my colleagues, have offered solutions in several special sessions to generate needed revenue to stabilize higher education, the TOPS program, healthcare and public safety. Our proposal has never been to renew all expiring taxes; in fact, it has always been a plan that would reduce the overall tax burden, but to replace enough revenue to avoid significant cuts to priorities.
The current posture of the budget is unreasonable, unconscionable, and unworkable. It fails to put the people of Louisiana above politics, and it fails to set our state on a steady and stable course towards prosperity. We can and must do better. Today is yet another step in the long process of working to fix it.
WHERE IS THE BUDGET BILL?
HERE in Step 2: It then moves to the House Floor where it once again undergoes scrutiny and may be amended in an attempt to earn 53 votes in order to pass it.