BATON ROUGE—House leaders are trying to gain ground in their dispute with the Senate over the state's "rainy day" fund by undoing the statute at the center of the complaint.
Rep. Jim Fannin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, quietly slipped language into a Senate bill Wednesday evening that would repeal the part of the rainy day fund law with which House leaders disagree.
House Speaker Jim Tucker on Thursday defended the maneuver and denied that he and Fannin were trying to sneak anything through the chamber.
"I understood what he was doing. I thought it was clear," said Tucker, R-Terrytown.
The House and Senate both want to use $198 million from the rainy day fund to help balance the budget, but they disagree on when it must be repaid. House leaders think it must be repaid immediately because of a constitutional provision governing the fund, formally called the Budget Stabilization Fund. Senate leaders say it won't have to be repaid for years.
The Senate is relying on a provision approved by lawmakers last year. Fannin is proposing to repeal that, with his addition to the bill by Sen. Jack Donahue.
"It's a piece of legislation that we believe is unconstitutional, and we can either repeal it here or it will be challenged at some point in the future," Tucker said, adding he would challenge it in court if senators don't agree to repeal the provision.
That proposal heads back to the Senate for approval of the change made by Fannin, certain to run into opposition from senators who disagree with the House.
Tucker said he notified Donahue before the change was made, but Donahue said he didn't know about the repeal language until after the House had adopted it and he was told of the maneuver by Senate staff. He said he didn't appreciate the hijacking of his bill.
"I'm still aggravated about it," said Donahue, R-Mandeville.
Donahue said he wasn't yet sure if he would object to the language added by Fannin - but if he doesn't, Senate President Joel Chaisson said he'd make the objection himself on the Senate floor.
"That's absolutely ludicrous that they would propose to do that in that fashion, without any discussion," said Chaisson, D-Destrehan. "There needs to be a debate about the merits of what they're proposing."
Particularly rankling some senators in the dispute is a separate bill by Fannin that would make additional stautory changes to the rules governing the calculation of the cap on the rainy day fund - even as Tucker and Fannin are arguing the statutory language about the fund's repayment is unconstitutional.