BATON ROUGE — The House Appropriations Committee on Monday approved a compromise plan to raise an expenditure cap and let the state to spend an additional $250 million in the current fiscal year and $1.4 billion above the projected cap next year.
The plan, approved 21-3, came after House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R- Gonzalez, supported a Senate resolution to exceed the caps by $500 million this year and $1.8 billion next year.
State Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, the leader of a conservative caucus that had opposed any increase in the caps, countered with an amendment to lower those totals, and that is the plan the committee approved.
Both the House and the Senate must take up the measure before the legislative session ends Thursday. Any plan to exceed the spending cap requires a two-thirds vote in each house.
The three votes against McFarland’s amendment came from state Reps. Blake Miquez, R-New Iberia, Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City and Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles.
The Appropriations Committee also rejected a bid, by state Rep. Daryl Deshotel, R-Marksville, to reduce the spending levels below what McFarland had suggested.
The expenditure limit is a calculated cap on spending for the Legislature. It is determined every year by the state Division of Administration. The factors include the average income tax collections from the last three years and a growth factor.
The Legislature is able to consider raising this constitutionally imposed limit due to high-than-expected tax revenue. Some lawmakers believe this money should be spent on one-time projects like roads and bridges instead of letting it lie over to eventually become surplus.
The Legislature can dedicate money that exceeds the cap to pay down state debts, and that is what McFarland and other conservatives had said they preferred to do.
The House had proposed a budget for 2023 that it believed to be below the cap, but the Division of Administration said the House budget would have exceeded the cap by $193 million.
Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, had agreed with Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, about raising the cap and spending more money on construction projects, in part to cover costs that have soared with inflation.
Over the weekend, the Senate amended the House budget to include additional spending. The Senate structured its plan in a way that many projects for universities, hospitals and local governments entities would not be funded unless the spending cap was lifted, thus adding pressure on House members to compromise.
A $2,000 teacher pay raise and $1,000 for staff has been added through the Minimum Foundation Program, a formula for allocating funding to school districts. This will be funded with or without an increase in the spending limit.
The Senate also added $14 million of Edwards’ proposed $52 million for early childhood education.
Schexnayder, the House speaker, talked Monday about the importance of raising the expenditure cap.
“I do think this is the right thing that we need to do as far as moving us all forward,” Schexnayder said.
Referring to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, he added: “And I think the budget that we’re gonna be able to get together after this, working with Chairman Zeringue and everybody here, I think we’re going to have a very successful session that people can all go home and be happy about.”
Schexnayder also talked about significant budget cuts under former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal as example of what he wanted to avoid, saying, "Those were some of the most miserable years we had."