What to expect from Baton Rouge this year

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Today concludes a 4-part series previewing the 2014 Legislative session.

There will be a plethora of issues facing legislators when they convene in Baton Rouge on Monday, March 10.

“The 2014 legislative session has all the ingredients for what could be a hit reality television show.  Some of the controversial issues likely to be discussed and fussed about are Medicaid expansion, equal pay for women, raising the minimum wage, gay rights, marijuana use, and higher education,” said local political pundit Lou Burnette. “Last session saw the beginning of an ‘independent movement’ among some legislators.  Will that movement continue to grow now that Governor Jindal is basically a lame duck and his job approval ratings are nothing for legislators to fear?”

The almost three-month long session, is not a fiscal session, which means it will include bills carried by legislators. But those are largely expected to pail in comparison when it comes to settling on how Louisiana will be funded.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has proposed a $24.9 billion state budget. That budget is below the $25.6 billion proposed last year.

House Bill 1, the budget, is what all local legislators are looking ahead to with Senator Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, calling it the “big ticket item.”

State Representative Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, is striving for responsibility.

“With our budget, we have to make cuts…we have to live within our means.”

State Representative Henry Burns, R-Haughton, warned, “We’re starting to show a slight increase in revenue, but there’s no way to meet all the demands. We’ll have to use our best judgement for appropriating those funds to the best of the state.”

After steady cuts to health care and higher education, Jindal has addressed the latter with more money in the proposed budget.

The budget increases funding for higher education by $142 million after $700 million worth of cuts over the past few years.

The majority of the funding, $88 million, will come from tuition increases and $40 million will come from Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy (WISE) fund. Colleges and universities wanting a piece of this funding will be required to fill positions in a field where Louisiana has a shortage.

“Higher education is always a controversial issue. The backlash to the cuts legislators made has the governor and legislators wanting to add more money into that pot. The fight will likely come over where to get the money to do so,” Burnette forecasted.

To help cover the increased funding for high ed., the governor wants to eliminate more than a thousand state government positions.

The budget proposal includes a $624 million decrease in overall government spending. This is due to a $99 million decrease in state revenue and a $524 million reduction in federal money.

Louisiana’s general fund is up, meaning state agencies won’t see cuts like they have in the past few years.

Jindal’s budget avoids using one-time revenue to pay for ongoing operations. The use of one-time money for ongoing state government costs has been an issue with many Republicans in the House of Representatives, who think it is financially irresponsible to use temporary funding for recurring expenditures.

“I believe government has to be responsible and fund the things that are the primary responsibilities of government and if we have money left over, we’re taxing people too much,” Thompson previously told the Press-Tribune.

Burnette offered one last thing to keep an eye on when it comes to local legislators: “Bossier legislators have basically been staunch supporters of the governor’s agenda. It will be interesting to see if they become more independent in their voting on issues. After all, elections are right around the corner in 2015 and they are wanting to please their constituents.”