BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A $24.6 billion budget that will increase spending on services for the disabled, higher education and public schools received final passage Friday with a vote of the Louisiana House, which agreed to a Senate rewrite of the spending plans.
Unlike some years where debate on the operating budget comes down to the final hours of the legislative session, lawmakers wrapped up their work on the 2014-15 spending roadmap with days to spare before the session must end Monday.
The 75-22 House vote sent the spending plan to Gov. Bobby Jindal, who can strip individual items he doesn't like with his veto pen. But lawmakers gave the Republican governor most of what he sought in his proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
"We appreciate the work of the Legislature on the budget. This budget increases funding for higher education in order to help better prepare our students to fill the thousands of jobs coming to Louisiana. Other of our top priorities, including increased funding for K-12 schools, merit pay increases for state employees, and increased health care funding for individuals with disabilities also made it through the process," Jindal said in a statement.
Lawmakers added dollars to give state troopers higher salaries and more money for services for the disabled and the families who take care of them. They also filled gaps Jindal's budget proposal had left in the public school funding formula and the state's free college tuition program called TOPS.
Using an improved budget forecast, senators stripped House proposals for across-the-board cuts for contracts, overtime pay and vacant positions.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, said the budget was an improvement over previous years when colleges and health care services faced steep cuts.
"It's not perfect. I think it's the best one that I've had in the last three years. I ask your final passage," he said.
More than 1,000 state jobs will be cut, though most are vacant. Next year's budget will drop by $807 million from this year's spending plan, though much of that is because the state is spending down federal hurricane recovery money. State general fund spending will grow by $447 million, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.
Rep. John Bel Edwards, Democratic leader in the House, raised concerns about maneuvers used to balance the spending plans.
The budget relies on more than $70 million in "efficiencies" recommended by a consulting firm hired by the Jindal administration, along with nearly $1 billion in patchwork financing that isn't expected to reappear a year later.
If the savings don't pan out, "then we've got a problem in the midyear," Edwards said. When lawmakers have to craft the 2015-16 budget, Edwards said: "We're looking at a billion-dollar problem."
The House also voted 97-0 for a $176 million budget for the state's judiciary next year, an $8 million increase, giving the plan final passage.