Shared from the 2017-06-16 American Press eEdition

Johns: Proposal ‘pretty darn decent’

Sen. Ronnie Johns said the proposed spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year isn’t perfect, but is “pretty darn decent” considering what state lawmakers had to work with this session.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 8-3 on Thursday to send House Bill 1, by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, to the full Senate. Johns, R-Sulphur, along with committee chairman Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, both voted to move the legislation favorably without amendments.

Johns called the legislation “one of the better budgets that I have seen” in the six years he has served on the committee. He said it fully funds TOPS and doesn’t cut higher education or the Department of Children and Family Services.

“There are no smoke and mirrors in it,” he said. “We’re not using one-time money to patch holes. It is strictly being funded with recurring revenue.”

State lawmakers are in the middle of a special session that was called after House lawmakers failed to cast a vote on H.B. 1 during the final hours of the regular session, which ended June 8. LaFleur said the current budget proposal is “essentially the same bill” the Senate passed during the regular session. But it “took a week for the House to come around,” he said.

“I don’t foresee it getting any better than it is now,” LaFleur said of the legislation.

The big change was a compromise that asks Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration to set aside $60 million across all state agencies in the event of a midyear budget shortfall. While some Republicans argued that the request doesn’t have enough teeth, Johns said he is confident Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne will keep his word that the agencies will withhold the money.

“I’ve known (Dardenne) since 1996,” Johns said. “While there are people in the (Capitol) I don’t trust, he is on the top of the list of people I do trust. If he sat there in a public hearing and gave us his word, that hold-back is going to happen.”

Johns said the Senate could approve the budget legislation without amending it sometime today. If the legislation is approved without amendments, it would head to the governor for signature. The special session ends June 19.

“I think we’ve shown an attitude of compromise in working with the House,” Johns said. “We could get out of the special session much quicker than we thought.”

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