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Louisiana legislative session reaches halfway point

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Associated Press 

BATON ROUGE — Halfway through this legislative session, Louisiana lawmakers have given their final approval to sweeping education changes. But the one item they have to complete before they can wrap up their work remains an unbalanced jumble.

Next year’s $25.5 billion budget faces a list of troubles: falling income estimates, ties to uncertain retirement changes and disputes over how much one-time money should be plugged into the spending plan.

It’s not an unusual place to be with six weeks to go before the legislative session must end June 4. But the uncertainties are a bit larger than lawmakers often see, with more than $1 billion tied to unresolved issues.

The House Appropriations Committee continues to comb through Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget recommendations for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Lawmakers on the committee won’t craft their version of next year’s budget until they get the latest revenue projections.

 

Legislative leaders say they plan to tweak the state’s income estimates by early May and the expectations are grim, with revenue figures expected to drop.
That dip will combine with legislative changes to Jindal’s pension proposals and lessen any savings for state agencies below what was contained in the governor’s budget recommendations.

 

“It seems like we’ll have a double whammy going forward,” said Senate Finance Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville.

 

Jindal’s chief budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, said his office doesn’t yet have estimates of what size hole the changes to the retirement bills have made in the governor’s budget proposal.

 

“Do you have some thoughts about where we might look to fill that deficit?” Donahue asked.

 

Rainwater didn’t give senators any suggestions but said the Jindal administration will work with lawmakers on ways to shrink the 2012-13 budget once the shortfalls become clear from the retirement legislation changes and from whatever changes are made to state revenue projections.

 

Beyond the budget, lawmakers have a slew of contentious items awaiting their decision in the second half of the regular session. 

 

Of the more than 1,900 bills filed for consideration, only a handful have reached final passage, nearly all of them tied to a series of significant changes to public education sought by Jindal and hurried through the session as a priority.
Those measures, signed into law last week, will create a statewide voucher program for some low- and moderate-income students to attend private schools with taxpayer dollars; expand charter school programs; make it tougher for teachers to reach the job protection know as tenure; and give more authority to school superintendents to decide teacher pay and hiring.

 

Jindal has since turned his focus to retirement changes that would make about 50,000 rank-and-file state workers and higher education employees pay more toward their retirement and wait longer to collect full benefits.

 

Those measures await debate on the Senate floor as early as this week, with strong opposition from retirement system leaders and others who call the bills unconstitutional, violating a provision that protects public pension benefits from being diminished.

 

The governor also is seeking to start a 401k-style retirement plan for new state employees that is tied to investment earnings, rather than offering a guaranteed monthly pension tied to a worker’s salary.

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Written by demon53

April 25, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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