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Wednesday, August 21, 2019



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Louisiana budget hearings open Monday amid partisan conflict

Louisiana budget hearings open Monday amid partisan conflict


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Though a seven-year tax deal was aimed to end Louisiana's years-long budget drama, new financial disputes are boiling as House lawmakers opened their annual budget hearings Monday.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and House Republican leaders now are arguing over how much money the state is collecting in taxes — and whether and how to spend it all.

Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras has blocked the recommendations of nonpartisan economists to increase the state income forecast and make more money available for the 2019-20 budget that begins July 1.

Edwards, who supported the forecast boost, proposed a spending plan for next year that assumes the money eventually will be recognized. House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry introduced a budget proposal that spends part of the money that hasn't been recognized, but $134 million less than the governor's $30 billion recommendation.

Henry's bill is the basis for budget hearings that started Monday in the Appropriations Committee. Haggling over which forecast is the correct one is certain to mark nearly every aspect of the discussion about spending when the legislative session begins April 8.

New Orleans Rep. Walt Leger, the House's highest-ranking Democrat, filed legislation containing the governor's budget proposal, but Henry won't be using that measure for the budget hearings.

"The governor's proposed budget is based on how much money he wishes the state had. We're going to start off budget hearings with the state general fund dollars we actually have," said Henry, a Jefferson Parish Republican. "And should additional revenue be recognized during the session, we'll amend that back into the budget as members see fit."

However, neither budget bill reflects the state's official income forecast adopted by the Revenue Estimating Conference in June.

"We presented you a proposed budget based on what the economists recommended," Edwards' chief budget adviser Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne told Republican lawmakers who questioned the governor's submission to the Legislature.

Henry's proposal contains the $100 million sought by Edwards to pay for a $1,000 K-12 public school teacher raise, along with $500 salary hikes for school support workers. But Henry's spending plan doesn't include an extra $39 million for school districts, or increases Edwards wants for public colleges, the corrections department, and the child welfare agency.

Across seven special sessions over three years, lawmakers and the governor bickered over how to end years of repeated budget gaps and stabilize state finances. Last year, they agreed on a seven-year package of taxes, including a 0.45 percent state sales tax and reductions to tax break programs.

But while the majority-Republican Legislature backed the plans, several House GOP leaders opposed the taxes. The disagreements are heightened by an election year in which Edwards is running for a second term and most lawmakers are either running for re-election or a different seat.

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House Bill 105: www.legis.la.gov

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