$26B La. budget gets final OK

Published 12:11 am Monday, June 21, 2010

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Under pressure from Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana House grudgingly agreed Sunday to a $26 billion budget bill that was written by the Senate and that includes far fewer cuts than the House wanted.

Even as a majority voted to give the spending plan final passage, lawmakers in the House lamented the Senate version, saying it doesn’t cut enough from state spending and uses too much one-time money.

‘‘You need to be able to go back home and share with your (constituents) that this is certainly not what you had originally voted on or what you thought was best,’’ said Rep. Jim Fannin, who as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee handled the budget in the House.

Then he added, ‘‘There are two sides to this process, and at the end of the day we have to try to come to some resolution, and it’s the best we can do.’’

With time running short and Jindal intervening, the House voted 66-34 for the bill, which accounts for a drop of more than a billion dollars in state revenue. The vote sends the budget to Jindal’s desk, with the legislative session required to end by 6 p.m. today.

Jindal sent a letter Sunday to House members urging them to back the Senate’s version of the spending plans.

‘‘I believe that it is a responsible budget that takes into account the new projected deficits that have not been recognized for both the current and next year. It also makes targeted reductions to balance the budget, while protecting critical state services,’’ Jindal wrote.

The House also agreed to plans to rebalance this year’s budget, which contains a nearly $600 million deficit, according to economists.

The Senate and House passed substantially different versions of the bills, with the House backing much steeper cuts to the state’s charity hospitals and public colleges, and refusing to use several sources of one-time money to plug budget gaps. The Senate included plans to address worsening budget shortfalls identified by economists that House leaders didn’t acknowledge.

As sent to Jindal, the budget will eliminate nearly 3,000 government jobs and levy cuts across most state agencies.

Reductions will fall on social services, mental health care, the charity hospital system, the Medicaid program for the poor and education programs. One of the only areas immune from slashing is the funding formula for public school districts.

The budget for next year will cut $70 million more than Jindal proposed, as revenue projections have continued to worsen since the governor offered his budget recommendations. The House wanted to cut $400 million instead.

Senators reduced House cuts to the LSU-run public hospitals, trying to avoid hospital closures. They replaced House cuts to college campuses with cuts to college management boards and agricultural research centers. They also removed all pet projects added by House members.

To make the plans work, the Senate used ‘‘rainy day’’ fund dollars and money from a tax amnesty program.

The House hadn’t used either pool of money. Senators also took money from a state emergency response fund.

Still pending in the Senate is the $3.3 billion funding formula for Louisiana’s public school districts. Also receiving final passage in the House on Sunday night were measures to allow public colleges to raise their tuition to help cope with budget cuts and to put into law an objection to President Barack Obama’s health overhaul. Jindal supports both pieces of legislation.