As the House and Senate move toward a conference committee on the budget, a new player has emerged — Larry Taylor, the chair of the House Republican caucus. Jim Pitts, the House budgetmeister, has said from the start that the level of spending in the House bill is inadequate. He has also said that the Senate bill spends too much money and will have to come down before the House can agree to a new budget. Pitts would like to increase spending by at least $5 billion, an amount that would not be enough to save schools and other state services but would bring the House budget closer to what the Senate is spending. So he has initiated talks with Taylor about whether Republicans would vote for a bill that increases spending by that amount. Taylor’s response was, “It depends on where the money come from.” What does that mean? Well, one thing it could mean is that the non-tax revenue proposals that leaked out of the Senate yesterday — money that could be raised by selling assets, charging state employees for parking, jiggling fees, liquidating tobacco trust funds, and so one, would be an acceptable source of new money. Taylor has had relatively little to do as chair of the caucus, except to make some key decisions leading up to the first-ever caucus vote for speaker, such as setting the vote for the day before the session was to begin. What Pitts wants Taylor to do, apparently, is feel out caucus members to determine if they will vote for a final bill that increases spending over the current House level. This thrusts Taylor into a leadership mode for the first time. If he can’t get caucus members to accept more spending, it is going to be a very hot and very long summer.
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