Capitol Views: House narrowly OK's school funding; hawks and marshmallows; capital outlay last big bill on last day
On a second try, with debate nearly as heated as the first time, the House narrowly approved the $3.4 billion school funding plan, 51-49, today. The Senate earlier passed the Minimum Foundation Program resolution, 24-15.
The conference committee had stripped a House amendment that removed a provision to include in the MFP costs for advanced high school seniors taking college courses. But the real source of discontent was directed at broader changes in education policy passed earlier this session.
As on Friday, there was opposition today to amounts diverted from local schools to pay for vouchers for students to attend private schools. Opponents cited examples of a church school in Ruston that seeks to triple its enrollment with vouchers, despite the fact that it hasn't the classrooms and teachers to handle the load.
Others cited an Islamic school in New Orleans applying for 38 voucher slots, and they razzed Education Chairman Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, when he said the Islamic school had withdrawn its application.
"Once we open this up, we won't be able to turn anyone down," warned Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin. "It will be the Branch Davidians and the Church of Scientology the next year."
Carter stressed that no private schools have been approved for voucher slots yet, but he refused to take any questions from the floor.
Democrats questioned a ruling of the speaker that concurrence would need only a majority of those present and voting, instead of the 53-vote House majority, which seems to be required by Article III, Section 15 of the state constitution.
—"The Hawks didn't do well, in baseball or the House," lamented Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-Monroe, on Sunday, a fan of the UL Monroe Hawks, whose postseason ended earlier that day at the NCAA Regional Tournament at Alex Box Stadium. Also going down that evening were the House's fiscal hawks, who were outvoted in their opposition to concurring on Senate amendments to the appropriations bill and approval of using the so-called rainy day fund.
The next day, leading fiscal hawk Rep. Brett Geymann was passing out hawk pins to legislators who stood their ground. For legislators who had voted with the hawks on the budget earlier but then switched to the administration side, Geymann handed out marshmallows.
—As usual, the last big bill taken up on the legislative session's last day was House Bill 2, the construction budget called capital outlay. The conference committee report passed the House, 82-17, with only the core of the fiscal hawks voting no. The Senate has yet to vote, but easy passage is expected.
This year, the Senate gave the House more than usual to swallow, by adding $80 million more in projects than were included by the House, which itself was $40 million more than the $350 million limit of what can be funded in the coming year. House Ways & Means Chairman Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, said conferees had to sort out what was added by senators as opposed to extra items sought by the administration.
Because the bill requires two-thirds approval to authorize the bonds, fiscal conservatives had identified the bill as a choke point to use in cutting one-time money from the appropriations bill. But that dare may be too great for the fiscal hawks to make; as one lawmaker said, "They all have projects in there too."
Lawmakers complain each year that the overage gives the administration even more power over lawmakers by getting to decide which projects move forward to the Bond Commission and which don't. Yet it seems politically impossible for legislators to decide which projects are to be pared.
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