- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - After agreeing to a spending plan for government operations next year, the Louisiana Senate backed a corresponding package of budget bills to finance construction work and pay for the legislative and judicial branches.

All the bills cover the financial year beginning July 1. The measures would:

FINANCE CONSTRUCTION WORK

Senators unanimously agreed to reverse many of the House-backed cuts proposed to the construction budget. The more than $4 billion budget to finance projects over several years, known as the capital outlay bill, is about $500 million larger than the House version.

Louisiana is so over-committed in projects it would take years to pay for everything with lines of credit from the state.

Though it’s larger than the House version, the Senate proposal remains $1 billion smaller than the construction budget passed last year, part of an effort pushed by Gov. John Bel Edwards to pare down the over-commitments. It also includes language requiring projects with state lines of credit to prove they are making construction progress to hold onto the money.

“We’re not necessarily gutting your project right now. We’re giving you an opportunity to rehabilitate. And if you don’t rehabilitate, we’re going to free up that money for something else,” said Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Chairman J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.

The House and Senate will have to agree to a final version of the measure before it can reach final legislative passage.

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PAY FOR THE JUDICIARY

A nearly $164 million budget would pay for the Louisiana Supreme Court and other parts of the state judiciary next year.

The judicial budget would drop from about $180 million in the current budget year. Supreme Court officials said the $16 million cut could damage the drug court program, re-entry services for prisoners and the ability to provide court-appointed advocates for children.

Finance Committee Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said those types of reductions could drive up the state’s prison population by cutting services aimed at helping convicted offenders. He suggested lawmakers may want to add money to the judicial budget if they agree to tax changes in an upcoming special session.

The Senate gave final passage to the bill with a 36-0 vote, sending it to the governor.

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FUND LEGISLATIVE AGENCIES

An $88.6 million budget would finance the House, Senate and other legislative agencies. The legislative budget would shrink from $96 million this year as the state continues to grapple with financial gaps.

A 36-0 vote of the Senate returned the proposal to the House for consideration of a more than $2 million increase senators added for the legislative auditor’s office, which audits government agencies.

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House Bills 2, 616 and 1049: www.legis.la.gov

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