- Associated Press - Monday, April 28, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Lawmakers in the Louisiana House reworked next year’s $25 billion budget Monday, closing education gaps that surfaced after Gov. Bobby Jindal submitted his spending plans and stripping patchwork financing they didn’t want to use for ongoing expenses.

The House Appropriations Committee reshuffled dollars in the 2014-15 spending plans for the fiscal year that begins July 1, with the full House scheduled to debate the budget bill on May 8.

“I think we’ve all struggled with trying to fill the needs of this state,” said Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, chairman of the committee.

Jindal proposed his budget in January, pushing new dollars for public colleges, health programs for people with developmental disabilities and state worker pay raises.

But as the House committee combed through the proposal agency by agency, holes appeared. About $44 million in tax amnesty proceeds was double-counted. The public school financing formula was $50 million short of what it needed to cover all students. A $15 million shortfall was discovered in the free college tuition program known as TOPS.

The committee filled those gaps. It also maintained the $60 million in salary hikes for rank-and-file state workers and a new $40 million incentive fund sought by Jindal and higher education leaders to steer dollars to high-demand degree programs on college campuses, like engineering and technology programs.

Committee members stripped $101 million in piecemeal financing that Jindal proposed to use to balance next year’s budget, including $50 million from the New Orleans convention center that would have been replaced with long-term borrowing paid off with interest.

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.

Nichols said the administration would use the recommendations of a consulting firm that it hired to come up with ways to shrink state spending through efficiencies and restructuring of government services.

“We absolutely will get to (the full amount), and we’ll do so without cuts to services and without achieving the unintended consequences when you make reductions across the board, she said.

Nichols said the corrections department will expand re-entry and treatment programs to cut down on recidivism rates and the state police will reorganize its command structure. She said the transportation department will use thinner asphalt for certain types of repaving projects, and the state will eliminate hundreds of toll-free telephone numbers across agencies.

Meanwhile, committee members steered new dollars to human services districts, the local government agencies that receive state funding to provide services like mental health care and addictive disorders treatment.

They plugged new dollars into services for people with developmental disabilities, New Orleans health clinics and a program that works with disabled people to find technology that can help them work, study or handle daily life.

And they added $8.9 million to boost salaries for the Louisiana State Police.

They drained two set-aside funds for economic development and used the dollars to instead balance their budget plan.

The Appropriations Committee also agreed to spend $3.7 million to repay a probation and parole officers’ retirement fund that had been used for operating expenses in a past budget. A Baton Rouge judge ruled in November that the maneuver by lawmakers and the governor in 2012 was unconstitutional.



House Bill 1 can be found at www.legis.la.gov



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