DALLAS — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Friday unveiled a $24.2 billion operating budget for fiscal 2011 that is $5.5 billion less than the state spent in fiscal 2010.

The reduction in spending reflects lower revenue estimates and a $3 billion drop in federal hurricane relief funds that flowed into the state last year, as they have since the storms of 2005. The proposed budget includes about $1 billion in federal stimulus funds.

Jindal's proposed budget is 18% lower than the current $29.7 billion operating budget that passed the Legislature in June 2009. Lawmakers will consider the Republican governor's proposed executive budget when they convene March 29. Louisiana's new fiscal year will begin July 1.

In his message, Jindal said before fiscal 2011 begins the state will use $76 million from the remaining general fund surplus and $233.7 million from the revenue generated from a 2009 tax amnesty program to defease some of the state's tax-supported debt.

Louisiana's net tax-supported debt was $9.97 billion on June 30, 2009, including $2.8 billion of general obligation bonds, $5.3 billion of revenue debt supported by fuel taxes, and $1.7 billion of debt supported by annual appropriations by the Legislature. The State Bond Commission is slated to receive the latest report on net state tax-supported debt later this week.

Jindal said the $309.7 million realized in debt-service savings will go to the Department of Health and Hospitals to compensate for a scheduled reduction in federal funds. Lowering the amount of money the state spends on health care would jeopardize additional federal funds, hesaid.

The budget proposal calls for a $1 billion decrease in general fund direct spending, from about $9 billion in fiscal 2010.

General fund collections have declined by 23% since peaking at $10.2 billion in fiscal 2007.

Total state funding is down almost 9%, to about $13 billion from $14 billion in fiscal 2010. Federal funding is set at $10.9 billion, down from almost $15.1 billion in fiscal 2010.

The budget reduces the number of full-time appropriated positions in the executive branch by almost 3,000, of which more than half are currently vacant.

Higher education funding is not reduced in the proposed new budget. University officials had been told to expect a $148 million drop in state appropriations, but that did not occur. Higher education budgets have been cut $250 million over the past year due to revenue declines.

However, Jindal did take the advice of his government streamlining committee and reduced funding for the state's five higher education boards by 27%, or about $5.2 million.

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