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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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Despite gaps, no cuts proposed for La. legislative agencies

Despite gaps, no cuts proposed for La. legislative agencies

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Though Louisiana continues to face budget shortfalls, state legislative leaders aren't proposing to cut their own agencies. Instead, they're seeking to boost legislative spending next year to the level in place before they took any reductions.

A panel of legislative leaders backed a $98 million financing proposal on Wednesday for the House, Senate, legislative auditor and other offices that work for lawmakers in the 2017-18 budget year that begins July 1. If the spending plan is supported by the full Legislature, that would rise from the $88 million budget approved for those agencies this year.

Senate President John Alario said the Legislature needs to have the money to do its job properly. He said the House and Senate have absorbed the costs of three special sessions over the last two years while also coping with increased retirement and health costs.

"Our costs are going up," said the Republican leader from Westwego. "I can't lay off members of the Senate."

House Speaker Taylor Barras, a New Iberia Republican, agreed: "We've made our contribution. To continue at that (lower) level would be difficult."

The increased spending comes as the state operating budget under consideration by lawmakers for next year wouldn't fully fund the TOPS college tuition program, would cut state spending on higher education and would make reductions across a wide array of state agencies.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed tax hikes to raise more for the state treasury next year, but Republican leaders in the House have shown resistance to tax increases.

Asked if cuts to the House and Senate could be coming as the legislative budget bill moves through the process, Alario said: "I don't anticipate it going down."

Legislative agency leaders talked of their shrinking workforces, even as demands have grown higher amid additional legislative sessions called by the governor to handle Louisiana's unstable finances and close budget gaps.

The $98 million financing proposal was approved without objection Wednesday by the Legislative Budgetary Control Council. It heads next to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Under the recommendations, spending on legislative agencies would go back to the levels of the 2015-16 budget.

The House would get $29 million and the Senate would receive $21.8 million.

The Legislative Fiscal Office, which analyzes the costs of bills and other financial issues, would get $2.9 million. The Legislative Budgetary Control Council, which covers expenses shared by the House and Senate, would receive $8.6 million. And the budget for the Louisiana State Law Institute, which studies legal issues, would be $1.1 million.

The Legislative Auditor's Office, which audits government agencies, would get $34 million, though it would receive more of its money from state tax dollars — and dip less heavily into its reserves to pay for operations. With that level of funding, the office would cut 13 jobs, shrinking its staff to 265 people.


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