Covering Louisiana

May 8, 2014 1:41 PM by AP

Louisiana House debates $25 billion state budget

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Lawmakers in the Louisiana House on Thursday debated the state's $25 billion budget for next year, considering plans by Gov. Bobby Jindal to boost spending on education programs, health care services and state worker pay raises.

Since the Legislature received the Republican governor's recommendations, worries have been raised by federal rejection of financing for the LSU hospital privatization deals already put in place by Jindal and largely funded with federal money.

The Jindal administration intends to appeal the ruling and is negotiating other possible hospital financing plans with federal officials. The governor's top budget adviser said the rejection won't cause any budget disruption for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and the administration is urging lawmakers against making changes to the hospital spending plans.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, who handles the budget bill, opened debate on the 2014-15 budget by talking of the state's ongoing money problems, saying balancing the spending plan is difficult.

"It's not always a joy ... to be able to have to say no when it comes to extra spending or additional spending," Fannin, R-Jonesboro, said. "We try to match it as best as we can with the needs of this state."

Jindal proposed his budget in January. As the House Appropriations Committee reviewed the proposal agency by agency, holes appeared. Tax amnesty proceeds were double-counted, the public school formula didn't have enough money to pay for all students, and the free college tuition program called TOPS was short.

Lawmakers filled those gaps while removing $101 million in patchwork funding that Jindal wanted to use to balance the budget that won't reappear a year later.

To make the numbers work, lawmakers proposed $25 million in new cuts in state contracts, another $12 million in reductions across agencies and removal of $17 million for vacant jobs so departments won't be able to fill them. The Jindal administration would have to determine how to divvy up the slashing.

On top of those cuts, the Appropriations Committee also proposed stripping another $76 million across departments. Jindal's top budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, said those reductions can be done without shrinking services, by using the "efficiency" recommendations of a consulting firm.

Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, pressed for more details about how those cuts would be rolled out across agencies.

"We all like saving money, but we may not like what they're doing to save that money. But we don't have that information when we're asked to vote," Edwards said.


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