Regional News

Louisiana Budget Squabble May Force Special Session

DALLAS— The Louisiana House’s unanimous rejection Tuesday of Senate amendments to its fiscal 2014 spending plan makes the first special legislative budget session in more than a decade likely.

A special session can be avoided if the budget dispute is resolved and a compromise is approved by 6 p.m. Thursday, the mandatory recess deadline for the 2013 Legislature.

The House voted 98-0 to reject changes made in the Senate to the $25 billion budget for fiscal 2014.

The House adopted House Bill 1 on May 10 with 92 in favor and six opposed. The Senate adopted its revised version, 37-1, in an unusual Saturday session.

The last special session on the budget was in 2000. Fiscal 2014 will begin July 1.

The House version sent to the Senate in early May significantly altered the executive budget proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal in March.

The House plan replaced more than $500 million of non-recurring revenue designated by Jindal for recurring expenses.

The House directed the use of one-time money to pay down state debt, and offset it with a combination of $106 million in spending cuts, bringing in an additional $83 million by suspending or altering existing tax credits, and a tax amnesty program that proponents said would bring in an extra $200 million in the first year.

Jindal said he would veto any changes in the House budget of state tax credits designed to generate additional revenue.

The Senate Finance Committee proposed 43 pages of amendments that restored $350 million of the spending cut by the House and added $47 million for a private school voucher program.

The Senate also adopted a bill directing $113 million from the fiscal 2013 surplus to the Medicare program. The House wants to deposit the surplus into the rainy day fund.

An analysis of the Senate amendments by the Legislative Fiscal Office said the revised budget put back $272 million of the one-time revenues removed by the House.

Sen. Jack Donohue, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the Senate version dealt with several issues that came up after the House adopted its budget. He cited court-ordered changes to the state’s school voucher program and increased costs associated with privatization of state hospitals.

“I like this budget and I'm proud of this budget,” Donahue said after Saturday’s passage. “I'm tired of people telling me it's not a good budget.”

Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, who sponsored HB 1, recommended the rejection of the Senate amendments to the spending plan. Fannin said he was optimistic that a budget agreement could be reached before the regular session ends.

The House appointed a six-member team to the conference committee that will seek a resolution to the differences between the two budget measures.

The Revenue Estimating Conference in mid-May raised its expectations for fiscal 2014 revenues by $155 million. The House budget assumed a $90 million increase in revenues.




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