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Jun 4, 2012 10:54 AM by AP

Louisiana lawmakers wrap up work on $25.6B budget

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Louisiana House gave final approval Sunday to a $25.6 billion budget for the next fiscal year that includes hundreds of millions of dollars in spending above the amount sought by a group conservative Republicans, wrapping up one of the biggest unresolved BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Louisiana House gave final approval Sunday to a $25.6 billion budget for the next fiscal year that includes hundreds of millions of dollars in spending above the amount sought by a group conservative Republicans, wrapping up one of the biggest unresolved issues a day before lawmakers end the regular session.

The House, on a 62-40 vote, approved the Senate version of the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The vote gave final passage to the measure, sending it to Republican Gov. Bobby Jindaissues a day before lawmakers end the regular session.

The House, on a 62-40 vote, approved the Senate version of the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The vote gave final passage to the measure, sending it to Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The package of bills contains $270 million in one-time money to balance the budget. A group of House Republicans called it irresponsible to use the patchwork funding to pay for services that will reappear year after year.

But House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, a Republican, and the Jindal administration supported the Senate version. They said that without the one-time money, colleges and health care services would face devastating cuts.

"We're trying to hold critical services together with what means that we have," said Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, who handled the package of budget bills in the House.

House conservatives accused Jindal of using scare tactics, and said savings could be achieved through cuts in overtime pay, vacant jobs and unnecessary contracts. However, the group lost several members after the outlining of dire scenarios of shuttered cancer treatment programs, eliminated medical training sites and college campuses pushed to financial emergency status.

Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, said the Senate "stuck the finger at us and said, 'Pass it.'"

Also given final passage Sunday was legislation that will tap the state's "rainy day" fund to eliminate a $200 million-plus budget deficit for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The vote was 73-28

Fannin said the state doesn't have enough general fund money left to cut to close that gap without tapping the rainy day fund.

The House action wrapped up nearly all of the unfinished business facing lawmakers - except for the $3.4 billion elementary and secondary education funding formula. That isn't expected to come up for a final vote until Monday, when the three-month legislative session must end by 6 p.m.

Sunday's action means the budget will remain largely flat. The state's Medicaid program will see an increase in funding, while public colleges will face more cuts. A state prison in northwest Louisiana will be closed. Private companies will be hired to run facilities for the developmentally disabled and several Mississippi River ferries.

Higher education will take the biggest hit - about a $70 million cut - with only a portion offset by tuition increases. Also, the governor's budget office, the Division of Administration, will be required to find another $15 million in savings, and colleges will likely feel part of the impact of that, too.

As many as 2,700 state employees face layoffs.

Health care providers who take care of Medicaid patients will get paid nearly 4 percent less, on average, for those services. Private hospitals will be exempt from the rate reduction. The joint federal-state program covers the state's poorest residents.

Lawmakers stripped idea sought by Jindal from the spending plans, including a bid to sell an Avoyelles Parish prison and privatize its operations and a proposal to fold the governor's Office of Elderly Affairs into the state health department.

Also removed: Any presumption of savings to state agencies from a package of Jindal pension system revamps that failed to win support from lawmakers.

The state's free college tuition program, TOPS, will receive an increase in funding to cover boosts in tuition costs for students. The K-12 public school funding formula will grow slightly to cover new students, and it will pay for a new statewide voucher program pushed by Jindal, approved by lawmakers earlier in the session and set to start in the fall.

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Online:

House Bills 1 and 822 can be found at www.legis.la.gov

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