- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - With Louisiana’s economic picture brightening, legislative leaders are proposing a $6 million boost to their budget next year.

The budget to finance the House, Senate and other legislative agencies would grow to $98.4 million next year, under recommendations approved without objection Wednesday by a panel of legislative leaders.

That’s a more than 6 percent increase for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1 above this year’s $92.5 million legislative budget.

The proposal goes first to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration, but with backing of the legislative leadership, few changes are expected.

Most of the increases across the legislative agencies are for increased retirement obligations and for pay raises for the employees who work for lawmakers, if they get good annual performance reviews.

“It has been long overdue, and I’m happy to see where we can address some of those things,” Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said of the pay raises.

Alario noted that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s 2014-15 budget proposal added new dollars for pay raises for rank-and-file workers across state government.

Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter said he was getting worried about losing employees because of stagnant wages.

“Our top people are getting (job) offers all the time,” Carpenter said.

The House, Senate and other legislative agencies gave salary hikes this year, but had to find ways to pay for them within their existing budgets.

The legislative budget has had few state general fund increases in the last five years because of the state’s financial difficulties.

The budget has grown from $86 million allocated for the 2008-09 fiscal year. But much of the growth has been in self-generated funds in Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office, which receives auditing fees.

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said the House can’t keep running existing operations with the same money it’s received for years, while inflationary costs continue to rise.

“Retirement costs are going up, and it’s no longer something we can absorb,” he said.

Under the recommendations, the House budget would grow from $27.6 million to $29 million, while the Senate would get $21.8 million, up from $20.7 million.

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