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Tucker: Jindal’s budget facing trouble in House

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Written by :The Associated Press

 

BATON ROUGE — House Speaker Jim Tucker said Thursday he doesn’t expect the House to agree to sell state prisons in Central Louisiana or to raise tuition to help bolster the state’s budget, raising questions about some of the key pieces of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s spending plan.

Tucker said it’s also unclear if the House will agree to reshuffle tobacco settlement dollars for use in the state’s free scholarship program, or TOPS. And he said lawmakers aren’t sure the $200 million in “efficiencies and savings” included in Jindal’s 2011-12 budget proposal are achievable and can be counted to balance the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“This budget is tenuous because of some of the proposals in it,” Tucker, R-Terrytown, told reporters at a luncheon meeting.

The House may cut as much as $400 million from the governor’s $25 billion spending proposal to rebalance it and account for the contingencies that aren’t likely to win House passage, Tucker said. He did not explain where they might cut, though health care and education programs are the least protected and most vulnerable areas in the budget.

The House speaker also said the annual tradition of adding of legislative earmarks for local museums, sewer and water projects, festivals, parks and favored non-governmental organizations likely will be scrapped this year because of the state’s tight financial situation.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any way we’re going to be able to afford ‘member amendments,’ nor should we in this current environment,” Tucker said.

If Tucker’s expectations pan out in the two-month legislative session, that would leave some of Jindal’s major budget initiatives on the cutting room floor.

Jindal budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, defended the governor’s spending proposals as “a smart, fiscally responsible budget.”

He said the administration would be willing to discuss deeper cut ideas with House leaders. But Rainwater added, “We want specific, responsible suggestions.”

The governor has proposed selling state prisons in Avoyelles, Allen and Winn parishes to generate nearly $90 million for health-care programs — though he said earlier this week that he won’t seek to move the legislation until the latest revenue forecasts come out in May. That signaled he’d be willing to scrap the proposal if lawmakers find another way to pay for the health services.

“The House would prefer to make cuts rather than selling prisons,” Tucker said. “People feel like selling prisons is borrowing our way out of a problem.”

The governor is also proposing $98 million in college tuition hikes to increase higher education spending next year. But Tucker said many members of the House want to see if tuition increases and performance standards enacted last year show improvements at colleges before they boost tuition again.

“Tuition increases are not popular in the House, and I don’t think they’ll happen,” the House speaker said. He added, “The general feeling on our side is we want to see some performance before we do anything else.”

Jindal’s budget also assumes that state agencies have found ways to save $200 million by doing things more efficiently, and Tucker said House leaders have not gotten enough details from the governor’s financial advisers to determine if those savings are real.

“They’re real efficiencies. We went department by department,” Rainwater said.

Tucker said House leaders hope to have their work on the budget complete and the proposal shipped over to the Senate by Memorial Day, following the regular schedule used over the years. A final version of the budget bill isn’t expected to be complete until the final days of the regular session, which must end June 23.

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Written by demon53

April 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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