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Special session deal the best we could get, LFT says

 (February 23, 2017) A legislative compromise that plugs the state’s $304 million budget hole with a combination of spending cuts and use of Rainy Day Fund money is the best deal that lawmakers could reach with Gov. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Larry Carter said today.

“The governor was able to keep his promise not to cut public education funds,” Carter said. “Faced with a range of bad choices and few good ones, this is the best deal that we could get.”

Prior to the start of the tense nine day special session, the governor said that he wanted to spend $119 million from the state’s reserve account. Some lawmakers balked, with House Appropriations Committee Chair Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) countering with a plan to use only $74 million from the fund. Others wanted to leave the fund untouched; that certainly would have resulted in big cuts for public education.

In the end, lawmakers agreed to spend $99 million from the Rainy Day Fund.

The plan hammered out by the legislature includes $82 million in cuts in general fund spending, with the rest covered by shifting funds from departments with surplus funds to those that are coming up short. The biggest cut was a $40 million hit to the Department of Health.

The Department of Education will lose about $1.75 million from its subgrantee assistance program; the Minimum Foundation Program was left untouched.

On Thursday morning, Governor Edwards announced his budget proposal for the fiscal session that opens on April 10.

The governor said the state will need $9.9 billion in revenues to meet budget goals, but that income is expected to fall about $440 million short of the goal.

The overarching aim of the coming session will be to stabilize Louisiana’s tax structure, which has been bleeding billions of dollars to overly generous tax credits, exemptions and deductions that largely favor big business.

“Unless the legislature can get a handle on the state’s outrageous tax expenditures,” Carter said, “we will continue to face a crisis every year. This session looks like our best hope to permanently fix our budget.”

If lawmakers succeed and are able to find an additional $440 million, Governor Edwards said, he would restore the traditional 2.75 percent increase to the MFP, raising school spending by $75 million.

His plan could also fully fund the popular TOPS college scholarship program and restore funding that the state’s public/private health care partnerships have lost.

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