- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Lawmakers in the House started work Tuesday on rebalancing this year’s budget, advancing a bill to plug health care and education gaps with money from an improved state income forecast.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a package of financial measures to close shortfalls before the current fiscal year ends June 30 - and to use patchwork dollars to help close a hefty hole in next year’s budget when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

For this year, $36 million would be added to the public school financing formula to cover a higher-than-projected number of students, $12 million would fill a Medicaid program gap and $3 million would go to sheriffs for housing state prisoners in local jails.

The bill also would steer $21 million to the LSU hospital privatization deal in New Orleans, to chip away at a projected shortfall when hospital services shift from an interim facility to a new state-constructed hospital this summer.

Committee members asked few questions and had little discussion as they advanced the budget-balancing bill, most of which was crafted by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Committee Chairman Jim Fannin described it as “just cleaning out and fixing the current year.”

The dollars come from reworked financial projections approved last week by the state’s revenue forecasting panel that gave lawmakers more money to spend this year. Most of the new money comes from a one-time, excess balance in an insurance reserve fund.

The package of financial bills also would use $125 million in surplus money and $70 million in other piecemeal financing to help balance next year’s budget.

Use of the surplus involves a complex financing maneuver to meet constitutional limits on how those dollars can be spent. The money would be used to prepay debt this year to free up the same amount of unrestricted, state general fund money for spending next year. The Bond Commission also must agree to the plan and will consider it Thursday.

All the financial measures head next to the full House for consideration. Fannin, R-Jonesboro, plans to bring them up for debate Thursday, along with next year’s $24 billion budget proposal.

Though lawmakers are struggling to fill all the financial holes, the Appropriations Committee didn’t propose any cuts to the budget to finance the House, Senate and other legislative agencies, or to the budget for the state’s judiciary.

Both of those budgets, approved without objection and sent to the House, would stay the same as this year, providing $98.4 million to the Legislature and $176 million to the judiciary.

Judicial leaders asked for a nearly $7 million increase, but the committee refused, citing the state’s budget problems. The judicial budget had an $8 million boost this year.

“Our efforts in the House are to try to at least stay where we were,” Fannin said.

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Online:

House Bills 566, 791, 800 and 801 can be found at www.legis.la.gov

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