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Louisiana budget deal complete; tax money added to forecast

Louisiana budget deal complete; tax money added to forecast

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana completed its tax and budget deal Tuesday, when nearly $500 million in taxes passed by lawmakers for the upcoming budget was added into state revenue forecasts, paving the way for spending the money.

The Revenue Estimating Conference adjusted the forecasts a day after Gov. John Bel Edwards signed both the budget and tax bills from the just-ended special session. Conference approval was the last step needed to enact the budget without the dire slashing once predicted.

"This is obviously necessary for us to recognize the session action and for us to process the budget and move forward," said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor's chief budget adviser and a member of the conference.

The final $29.5 billion state operating budget enacted by the Legislature for the budget year that starts in July will keep most agencies on an even keel — and even fund a few new initiatives.

Taxes passed by lawmakers across two special sessions in May and June sidestepped worries that food stamp assistance would dry up, college students would lose state-financed tuition aid, safety-net hospitals would close and nursing home residents would be evicted.

Instead, the spending plan will shield health services, K-12 education programs, college campuses, the TOPS tuition program, state parks, district attorneys, the food stamp program and the child-welfare agency from cuts.

Corrections officers will get a pay raise. Need-based aid for college students will grow. The foster care program will be expanded to pay for students to finish high school or until they reach age 21, rather than ending payments when a child turns 18.

Some agencies will take smaller cuts, and the budget doesn't contain enough money to pay local sheriffs to house state inmates in their jails. The state will owe sheriffs the money.

Lawmakers also allocated only part of the money needed for the corrections officer pay raise. Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc will be asking for additional dollars later in the year to cover the pay hike costs, saying the raise is critical to help stem prison guard turnover rates that are so high they threaten safety.

With the new budget year only a day away, the Revenue Estimating Conference moved to put the finishing touches on the tax and budget deal quickly, with legislative staff hastily trying to pull together all the paperwork needed for the final procedural step.

The deal had three main financing pieces that needed to be incorporated into the forecast: partial renewal of an expiring state sales tax, adjustments to tax break programs and movement of oil spill recovery money from savings accounts to the state's general fund.

The largest amount of money, $463 million, was raised by the sales tax. Lawmakers agreed to renew 0.45 percent of an expiring 1 percent sales tax. The state sales tax rate will fall from 5 percent to 4.45 percent on July 1 and stay there until mid-2025.

Several sales tax breaks for people and companies also will be scaled back.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte