BY JOHN GUIDROZ    jguidroz@americanpress.com
   Two state lawmakers from Southwest Louisiana said Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed $24.6 billion spending plan is a good starting point, with higher education not taking as deep a cut as expected.    But House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, and Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, said there is plenty of work left as this year’s legislative session approaches. Both sit on the Legislature’s joint budget committee, which heard the budget presentation Friday from members of Jindal’s administration.    With the state facing a $1.6 billion deficit, Jindal’s budget proposal calls for putting a cap on what the state spends on tax credits. Of the $526 million the proposal says it would generate from cutting refundable tax credits, just over $372 million would go toward higher education.    But that still leaves a $211 million gap that lawmakers will have to deal with once the legislative session gets underway April 13. Despite that gap, Kleckley said, Jindal’s budget proposal “certainly looks better” than expected.    “I think the message higher education has sent over the last couple of months has been heard very loud and clear,” he said. “We have to minimize any cuts to higher ed and give them stability so they don’t have to come to the Legislature every year and fight for every single dollar.”    One way the state can generate revenue is by raising its cigarette tax, Kleckley said. Louisiana has one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation at 36 cents. Neighboring states have higher taxes, including Texas ($1.41) and Mississippi (68 cents).    “There are a variety of solutions out there,” he said of generating revenue for the state. If the cigarette tax is increased, Johns said, some of that revenue should be dedicated to health care.    Johns, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, said Louisiana “can go a lot further” in addressing its movie tax credits.    “In my mind, that is one of the largest areas that we have some room to work with in terms of generating some revenue,” he said.    Johns said the state could look at phasing out its solar tax credits sooner than scheduled.    Kleckley said one of his goals is to remove all nonrecurring, or one-time, money from the budget. Over the last several years, Jindal and the Legislature have used onetime funds to reach a balanced budget at the end of the session.    Kleckley said the House Appropriations Committee will begin considering Jindal’s budget proposal March 17. “It’ll be an interesting session, to say the least,” he said.


Contact: Cami Geisman
225.219.0270  |  Cami.Geisman@la.gov


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