Legislative Leaders Propose Standstill Budget For Themselves

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Despite the state's $1.6 billion shortfall, the Louisiana Legislature's spending isn't on the chopping block.

         A panel of legislative leaders Monday recommended a $98.4 million budget to finance the House, Senate and other legislative agencies in the 2015-16 fiscal year that begins July 1. That's the same amount the Legislature received this year.

         The proposal comes as colleges and health services are threatened with deep cuts and most state departments are slated for reductions next year.

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         House and Senate officials say they'll have expenses for a longer legislative session next year, plus an organizational session after the fall elections.

         "We're going to move money around and make it work," said Jerry Guillot, the Senate's chief of staff.

         Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said the budget proposal reflects what is needed for the Legislature to fulfill its constitutional duties.

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         "We have to have adequate staff," he said, when asked why legislative leaders didn't propose a reduction amid the state's budget troubles.

         House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said it would be difficult to make reductions because 90 percent of the annual budget pays for the legislative staff.

         The legislative budget still needs House and Senate approval. Its first stop will be in the House Appropriations Committee. But it rarely changes from the leadership's recommendation.

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         The legislative budget has grown from $86 million allocated for the 2008-09 fiscal year. And the standstill proposal comes after legislative agencies got a $6 million boost to their budget in the current fiscal year, a more than 6 percent increase that paid for increased retirement obligations and pay raises for legislative employees.

         Under the recommendations, the House budget would remain at $29 million and the Senate budget at $21.8 million.

         The Legislative Auditor's Office, which audits government agencies and reviews state spending, would continue to receive $35 million. The Legislative Fiscal Office, which analyzes the costs of bills and performs other financial reviews, would stay at a $2.9 million budget.

         The Legislative Budgetary Control Council, which covers certain expenses shared by the House and Senate, would keep getting $8.6 million. And the budget for the Louisiana State Law Institute, which studies various legal issues for lawmakers, would stay at $1.1 million.

         The panel of legislative leaders spent little time discussing the proposal before signing off on it at Monday's hearing.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte

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