TOPS up, mental health services down in House-approved Louisiana state budget

 

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The Louisiana House of Representatives on Thursday (May 4) approved its version of the state budget, with spending $237 million less than what analysts predict will be collected during the fiscal year that starts July 1. Even spending less than all revenue, and less than Gov. John Bel Edwards wanted, the House proposal fully funds the TOPS scholarship program, by cutting $82 million more for mental health services across the state (NOLA.com).

Adopting a state spending plan dependent on less money than the state expects to generate next year was one of the House Republican leadership’s signature financial policy initiatives this session. Attempts to adjust the plan largely failed on partisan votes, with the Republicans 60-vote majority voting against most changes that were proposed (NOLA.com).

The failure to bring the budget closer to what Gov. John Bel Edwards had present indicates a wider schism between the governor and Louisiana House than existed last year. In 2016, the Louisiana House, as a whole, sided with the governor on budget priorities over the objections of their own House leadership. They voted — albeit narrowly — to fund health care and hospitals over the TOPS scholarship program (NOLA.com).

Yet on Thursday, no one in the House, including Democrats, even suggested that money should be moved from TOPS back into health care services, even though that what the Edwards administration had suggested, given the limited funds. A new discipline and uniformity within the House Republican caucus was on display Thursday during the House budget debate, as outside conservative groups, both national and based in the state, put pressure on legislators back in their home districts. 

The Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority — an outside political group set up by former U.S. David Vitter and now run by Attorney General Jeff Landry — announced during Thursday’s budget debate that it would be keeping track of whether Republican members of the House supported the House GOP leadership’s budget proposal. The groups has played a major role in funding Republican statehouse elections around the state. And they are just one of the organization that has threatened to campaign against House GOP members that don’t go along with the House Republican leadership’s plan (NOLA.com).

The spending plan now heads to the Louisiana Senate for consideration. The Senate and Edwards tend to more closely aligned in their priorities, and it’s likely that the plan passed by the House won’t be acceptable to the Senate. More than likely, the leadership from the two chambers will ends up in negotiations with the governor. A plan is supposed to be in place by June 8, when the Legislature adjourns (NOLA.com).