By MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Staring down a budget shortfall that hits in July, Louisiana’s legislative leaders aren’t recommending cuts to their agencies but rather a nearly $12 million increase to their bottom line.
The budget proposal for legislative agencies, filed Thursday by House Speaker Taylor Barras, would spend $96.4 million in the 2018-19 financial year that begins July 1. That would be bumped up from the $84.8 million allocated this year for the House, Senate, legislative auditor and other offices that work for lawmakers.
Lawmakers could change the approach, though House and Senate leaders said they’re struggling to cover their constitutional requirements with repeated special sessions and stagnant funding.
“It’s getting very tight,” said Republican Senate President John Alario. “There’s some costs you can’t avoid.”
The proposal to boost legislative agency spending comes as lawmakers are considering ways to close a budget gap estimated around $700 million. Cuts to college campuses, the TOPS college tuition program, health care services and public safety programs are being considered.
Barras, a Republican, said the spending proposal for legislative agencies may ultimately get cut as lawmakers work through the budget negotiations.
“That’s a possibility,” he said. He added it could be “similar to what we did in previous years. We’ll reconcile that again, depending on what is appropriated.”
The legislative budget first proposed last year was similar in size to the one introduced this year, but it was reduced as the bill advanced during the session. The same thing happened a year earlier, when the final version of the 2016-17 legislative budget was around $88 million.
The high point for legislative agencies was the more than $98 million spending plan approved for the 2015-16 financial year.
Rather than an increase, Gov. John Bel Edwards proposed a cut of $3 million for the legislative branch from the current level of spending in the upcoming budget year.
Legislative agency leaders described shrinking workforces, even as demands have grown higher amid additional legislative sessions called by Edwards to deal with Louisiana’s unstable finances. Special sessions carry costs for staff, supplies and lawmakers’ per diem and travel.
“The special sessions, we’ve got to absorb all that,” Alario said.
As submitted for consideration, the House would get $29 million and the Senate would receive $21.8 million.
The Legislative Fiscal Office, which analyzes the costs of bills and other financial issues, would get $2.9 million. The Legislative Budgetary Control Council, which covers expenses shared by the House and Senate, would receive $8.6 million. The budget for the Louisiana State Law Institute, which studies legal issues, would be $1.1 million. And the Legislative Auditor’s Office, which audits government agencies, would get $33.1 million.
The financing proposal goes first to the House Appropriations Committee for review.