The state House and Senate appear on track to resolving their biggest differences on the state budget. The House Appropriations Committee on Monday overwhelmingly agreed to raise a constitutional spending limit to allow more than $1.6 billion to be divided among state and local projects. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, which raises the state’s spending cap over the next 13 months, won support from several lawmakers who had previously opposed the move. But the proposal still needs at least 70 votes on the House floor. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports: 

Senate Finance Chairman Bodi White, R-Central, said he expected the House to reject the Senate budget plan and send the matter to a legislative conference committee, where negotiations over the state’s financial priorities will continue.  The conference committee process will be secretive, and jockeying over the state spending plan will continue largely behind doors for the next few days. House and Senate leaders will select six legislators — three from each chamber —  to negotiate on each one of the budget bills, but those talks won’t take place out in the open.

The resolution was rewritten to raise the spending cap by $250 million in the current year and $1.4 billion next year – less than what Senate President Page Cortez initially requested. The Advocate’s James Finn reports that the lower amount doesn’t appear to be a sticking point that could derail negotiations. 

Cortez said fiscal staff realized the limit could be increased by a smaller margin and the state would still be able to meet its financial needs. “We were high on both,” Cortez said in an interview, referring to the initial estimates on how much the expenditure limit had to be raised. “We’re in good shape.” 

Tax-swap package advances
A plan to gradually eliminate Louisiana’s corporate franchise tax is headed to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk for a signature or veto after the House gave final approval on Monday. Sen. Bret Allain’s Senate Bill 1 would reduce Louisiana’s corporate franchise tax by 25% in years that corporate income and franchise tax collections exceed $600 million (any collections above that amount goes into a state savings account). The revenue loss from the franchise tax would be partially offset by Allain’s Senate Bill 6, which scales back the state’s costly and ineffective Quality Jobs Program. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Wesley Muller reports: 

The Quality Jobs program, administered through Louisiana Economic Development (LED), offers payroll tax rebates to certain businesses for creating or retaining jobs. The incentive program costs the state millions every year. Senate Bill 6 would reduce Quality Jobs tax credits 50% of their current value in any year the franchise tax is reduced.  Combined, the legislation’s net impact on state revenues would be a $163 million loss over five years, according to the fiscal note.  The package will return to the Senate before heading to Gov. John Bel Edwards for approval.

The Quality Jobs bill still needs final approval from the Senate before it goes to the governor. 

Holding students back for low reading scores
Third-grade students in Louisiana will be held back if they fail to pass a mandatory reading assessment under legislation that advanced out of the Senate on Monday. Rep. Richard Nelson’s House Bill 12, which now heads to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk for a signature or veto, seeks to mimic the significant strides Mississippi has made to improve student reading scores. Fewer than 50% of Louisiana K-3 students were reading on grade level, according to a report from the state Department of Education. The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports. 

Under HB 12, third graders would take a state reading test in April. If they fail, they are supposed to receive intensive coaching to prepare them to pass the test a month later. If they fail a second time, they can then take summer school to try one more time before their fourth grade school year would begin. Students who fail the test but are diagnosed with dyslexia – and kids still learning English – may receive a “good cause” promotion under the bill. The testing under the new law would not begin until April 2025. So no kids would be held back during the next two years. 

Senate rejects bill banning slavery
Last fall, confusing ballot language led to the defeat of a constitutional amendment to ban slavery and involuntary servitude in Louisiana. Rep. Edmond Jordan, the amendment’s legislative sponsor, came back with a different version in 2023. But state voters will not have an opportunity this October to remove slavery from the state’s constitution after the Senate rejected Jordan’s House Bill 211 on Monday. Gannett’s Greg HIlburn reports: 

Though slavery was abolished in the U.S. in 1865, Jordan said the stain has remained in state constitutions where the current language says slavery and involuntary servitude are illegal but include exceptions for forced convict labor. His bill had cleared the House on a 98-0 vote, but Senators questioned the need for the amendment since slavery is already outlawed. Voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont amended their state constitutions in November to abolish those words and ban involuntary servitude and slavery. They follow Colorado, Nebraska and Utah, which have passed similar amendments in recent years.

Number of the Day
49.6% – Percentage of Louisiana K-3 students that are reading on grade level. (Source: Louisiana Department of Education