Bobby Jindal proposes increase in Louisiana's education budget
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - After years of cuts, Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, is recommending a $25 billion budget for next year that increases spending on colleges, public schools and health care services, as the improving economy bolsters state finances.
The Jindal administration and lawmakers have been slashing spending repeatedly since 2008, as tax collections plummeted when the national recession hit at the same time as new state tax breaks.
To make the numbers work, Jindal's budget uses dollars generated from a tax amnesty period this year and assumes another $100 million in back-owed taxes will be collected through a similar period next year.
Nearly 40 percent of the governor's budget would pay for health care programs, while another 30 percent would go to education.
Higher education, which has been cut by about $700 million in state financing in recent years, is slated for an increase of $53 million for workforce development initiatives, technology upgrades and the LSU agricultural center. In addition, colleges are raising student tuition costs by $88 million, which would give campuses more money.
"Unfortunately, it's not enough," said John Moller, executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project, which tracks state government spending. "Louisiana has cut its higher education investment more than any other state over the past five years, and the new money in this budget only restores a fraction of what's been lost."
The governor's budget would eliminate more than 1,100 state government jobs, all but 33 of them vacant, while providing $60 million in pay raises for thousands of rank-and-file state workers.
However, those same employees face a recommended 5 percent increase in their health insurance premiums next year.
Unlike in previous years, the governor said he isn't proposing 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.
The change was designed to end complaints from conservative House Republicans who say Jindal's use of patchwork financing has created continuing budget problems for the state.
Jindal proposes using a $160 million state surplus and $50 million in other piecemeal funds to help pay down state debt. He's also suggesting the state put $25 million into its "rainy day" fund, though that's far less than the $330 million owed as part of a lawsuit settlement.
Lawmakers will vote on a final version of the 2014-2015 spending plan in the three-month legislative session that begins in March.
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