AP Wire

Bill to spend new tax revenue advancing in La. House

by Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A budget bill to spend the $214 million in taxes lawmakers have raised so far in the special session started advancing Monday in the Louisiana House, with the TOPS college tuition program and the state's safety-net hospitals slated to get more than half the revenue.

Also in line for a slice of the funding are college campuses, the LSU medical schools, K-12 public and private schools, the voucher program, prisons and a judicial program that provides court-appointed advocates for children.

The proposal backed in an 18-4 vote by the Appropriations Committee would give TOPS one-third of the new money, $67 million. Students who receive TOPS awards would get 70 percent of their tuition costs covered.

The safety-net hospitals would receive nearly $51 million, the amount sought by Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration — but less than the hospital operators want.

The full House is expected to debate the budget proposal Monday afternoon.

"I expect a lot of amendments to move things around," Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said of the upcoming debate.

Even with the added money in the $26 billion state operating budget for the financial year that begins July 1, cuts still would fall across education, health, public safety and a wide array of government programs.

The four votes against the measure came from Democrats who have unsuccessfully pushed for more taxes to lessen cuts.

Edwards, a Democrat, wanted lawmakers meeting in an 18-day special session to agree to tax changes that would raise $600 million for next year's budget. Senate leaders were seeking $450 million. But Republicans, particularly in the House, have blocked anything above the estimated $214 million already passed so far.

Two bills aimed at reducing property tax breaks given to businesses, to raise a combined $81 million next year, appeared to be the last viable options in the final week of the special session. The House Ways and Means Committee was hearing the measures Monday.

The session must end by Thursday.