MONROE (KTVE/KARD) -- State lawmakers won't convene for the legislative session until March.
But this Friday, Governor Bobby Jindal will unveil a budget proposal for the budget year starting July 1, that will set the stage for financial debates.
"We all have different wants, needs and challenges," said Sen. Francis Thompson.
Governor Jindal is required to present his budget plan to the joint legislative committee 45 days before the start of legislative session. His spending recommendations will be presented to the house and senate budget committees -- including local Senators Mike Walsworth and Francis Thompson.
"Education, healthcare and economic development. If we don't put money in there, we won't be competitive in drawing industry," said Thompson. "We're going to have a balanced budget, the governor's budget will be looked at, some say we'll throw it in the trashcan but we wont do that."
"Not only in Louisiana but nationwide, the economy has been kind of stagnant, I think we're hopefully on an upswing," said Walsworth.
Walsworth said the present year budget is about $25.4 billion dollars, and the budget next year may be a little higher than that.
"We do expect some growth," he said.
They'll see how Jindal wants to deal with a number of budget issues at hand, including (information provided by the state budget office):
- The latest 5 year forecast showing a $605 million dollar projected budget shortfall.
- The replacement of the more than $300 million in nonrecurring money that was used in the current budget - most of it was used to fund higher education.
- Finding money to fund the cost increases in health care - medical inflation is approximately $77 million.
- The current unfunded accrued liability of the retirement system exceeds $20 billion.
- The higher education TOPS program continues to grow at about $17 million.
- At some point in the future, the state may be required to pay back money into the state's Budget Stabilization Fun (Rainy Day Fund).
- The budget will use up to $295 million from the tax amnesty program.
"Preserving the budget. We can't go any lower than we're going now, or we'll be penny-wise and dollar foolish," said Thompson.
"We continue to struggle with internet sales, it continues to errode into our tax base," said Walsworth.
But this is the first time in five years with no mid-year budget cuts.
"That is because of the amnesty program we just concluded, brought in about $100 million more than we were expecting," said Walsworth. "That's going to allow us to use about $100 million extra dollars, and we can use that to take care of the $35 million that we found that we were short in this year's budget."
A lot of debate will be where that extra money can go.
"Unfunded liability and retirement system, we could put some money there," said Thompson.
"I think my first concern will be workers in higher education, professors, been without a pay raise for 5 or 6 years," said Walsworth.
Both senators said they are hopefull that higher education and healthcare won't face drastic cuts in the budget proposal.
"We cannot lower the standards in education and drop the standards in health care and not deliver services to the needy," said Thompson.
"We have had severe cuts for health care and higher education, those are the two that are not protected," said Walsworth.
K-12 is protected constitutionally, and was the big winner in last year's budget. Walsworth said they will most likely get a majority of the dollars.
Because of lawsuits, Thompson says they may be forced to give money to K-12.
"Even withstanding that, we need to put more money in education," he said.
"I think what you're gonna see is a lot more consolidation with heatlh care," said Walsworth.
Thompson says he just wants to have the proper funding for all education, health care, and economic development.
"My biggest fear is that we spend money in areas that won't bring us great dividends," he said.
The legislative session starts March 10 and runs through June 2. Next year's operating budget may not be final until the last days or hours of the session.
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