SPOTLIGHT: Jindal budget tries to end cut criticism
Gov. Bobby Jindal
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal’s $25 billion budget proposal for next year has candy for everyone, packed full of tidbits designed to stop years of criticism about cuts and perhaps improve his sagging approval ratings.
Helped by an economy on the mend, the Republican governor recommended a 2014-15 budget that would boost spending on colleges, pour new dollars into public schools, expand health care services for disabled people and give pay raises to rank-and-file state workers.
Questions remain about how the proposed spending would be paid for, so lawmakers are waiting to see the breakdown of how Jindal’s budget proposals are financed before they get too excited, particularly after years of disputes over shaky funding proposals.
In his recommendations, the governor offers something to please many legislators angered by his budget cuts in previous years, hitting many of their favored causes.
In the past six years, $700 million was slashed from higher education. This time, Jindal proposes to continue $40 million in one-time funding added for colleges last year, add $13 million in new money and let colleges keep $88 million in new tuition revenue rather than cutting an equal amount from them elsewhere.
For public elementary and secondary education, the governor suggests $12 million in new spending for special education and technical courses in the public school financing formula. He’s also seeking to make permanent a one-time, $69 million boost in education funding added by lawmakers last year.
Six months ago, Jindal vetoed $6 million to expand services for the developmentally disabled, setting off a firestorm of criticism. He’s now proposing $26 million in new money to give assistance to nearly 2,500 disabled people on waiting lists.
Jindal also is pushing for $60 million in pay raises for thousands of state workers that he’s aggravated through years of privatization deals and job reductions.
Last year, lawmakers pieced together funding to train new troopers because of concerns about thinning ranks for the Louisiana State Police. This year, Jindal’s recommending a new round of $10 million for training to put more troopers on the force.
He’s suggests a $150,000 infusion for the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, which oversees programs designed to nurture the French language. Jindal vetoed a similar amount of funding for CODOFIL in 2012, irritating lawmakers in the Acadiana parishes.
And the governor has proposed an increase of $5 million to a cause strongly favored by lawmakers — the local Councils on Aging that provide meals and other assistance to the elderly.
To address an ongoing feud with conservative Republicans in the state House, the Jindal administration said the governor’s budget doesn’t propose to pay for ongoing programs with money from legal settlements, property sales and other revenue streams that aren’t expected to reappear year after year.
However, questions are emerging about how all the pieces of the budget fit together and whether the financing will work out.
Jindal’s budget assumes $100 million in back-owed taxes will be collected through a tax amnesty period. It again taps into a trust fund for elderly services that the administration already has depleted from more than $830 million to about $250 million since Jindal has been in office.
The spending plans assume dollars will be taken from a fund for the New Orleans convention center and replaced with long-term borrowing.
Also, complaints are starting to emerge about some items the administration has labeled “efficiencies,” including changes in payments to hospitals that the Louisiana Hospital Association says amount to about $6 million in cuts.
The Legislature opens its regular session in March.
Lawmakers will start combing through the governor’s budget recommendations soon enough to determine whether they think the numbers work, and whether the state’s financial situation is as upbeat as Jindal’s budget makes it appear.
Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press.