Louisiana House leaders agreed Wednesday to end their freeze on the state's budget bills, in a move that doesn't settle their entrenched dispute with the Senate but could restart stalled negotiations.



Louisiana House leaders agreed Wednesday to end their freeze on the state's budget bills, in a move that doesn't settle their entrenched dispute with the Senate but could restart stalled negotiations.

The House and Senate have not reached a compromise about how they want to deal with this year's $319 million budget deficit or craft spending plans for next year. But the House has decided to advance the budget bills anyway, after delaying them for more than a week.

"There's absolutely no deal with the Senate," said House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown.

Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, said he and Tucker agreed to move the bills because lawmakers must wrap up their work by June 21.

House members will "do our responsible duty and get a budget out and not have to come back for a special session," Fannin said.

Fannin scheduled a meeting Thursday of his House Appropriations Committee to make changes to the budget proposals and send them for full House debate.

However, Fannin added a wrinkle, saying he won't use any of the "rainy day" fund dollars at issue in the disagreement with the Senate and other sources of one-time money tied up in the dispute. That means the House committee likely will have to propose deep cuts to balance the bills, because the sources of cash at issue reach up to $500 million.

Senate President Joel Chaisson, D-Destrehan, said he was "elated" the House has agreed to send the Senate the budget measures. But he said he would urge Tucker to speed up a schedule that wouldn't get the bills to the Senate until June 4 - giving the Senate a bit more than two weeks to work on the budget.

"It's a ridiculously short amount of time for us to consider a bill that they've had all these months," Chaisson said.

He told senators if they didn't get the budget measures soon, "There's a real danger that we might have to have a special session. That would be a travesty."

At the heart of the dispute is the rainy day fund.

Both sides have agreed they want to use money from the fund to help fill this year's budget deficit, but they disagree on when the dollars would have to be repaid. House leaders say a constitutional provision requires the fund must be repaid in the upcoming fiscal year, and Senate leaders say a more recent statutory change doesn't require the money to be repaid for years.

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