- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Latest on the Louisiana Senate’s budget debate (all times local):

12:45 p.m.

The Louisiana Senate has overwhelmingly backed a $26 billion budget proposal for next year that would levy cuts across most state government programs.

Senators voted 37-2 Wednesday for the spending plan after only an hour of discussion. The House, by comparison, spent two days combing through the measure.

Widespread cuts would hit the TOPS college tuition program, the safety net hospitals for the poor, K-12 education and public colleges. Senators shielded home- and community-based services for the elderly and disabled, but other health services would take hits.

Senate action sends the budget bill back to the House for negotiations on a final version, with five days remaining in the legislative session. A special legislative session is planned to begin next week, for lawmakers to consider taxes to lessen cuts.

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11:30 a.m.

Louisiana senators have started debate on a nearly $26 billion state operating budget for next year that would levy cuts on the TOPS college tuition program and the safety net hospitals that care for the poor.

Whatever the Senate approves Wednesday will set up final negotiations between the two sides with five days remaining in the legislative session.

Lawmakers are grappling with a $600 million shortfall for the financial year that begins July 1.

Senate President John Alario says the budget “will be woefully short” to fund critical services.

Higher education, the LSU medical schools and K-12 public schools would be on the chopping block, along with public safety and child welfare programs.

A special session on taxes to begin Monday could generate money to stave off some cuts.

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6 a.m.

Louisiana’s state senators are readying to debate a nearly $26 billion state operating budget for next year that looks strikingly different from the House version.

The Senate proposal up for debate Wednesday places a greater priority on health services for the elderly and disabled than the TOPS college tuition program.

Whatever the Senate approves will set up final negotiations between the two sides with only five days remaining in the legislative session. Disagreements center on how to close a $600 million gap for the year that begins July 1.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has called a special session, to start after the current session ends Monday, for lawmakers to consider taxes to lessen cuts. So, if lawmakers reach a budget deal this session, that won’t necessarily be the final word.

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