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Louisiana Legislature to Convene

November 06, 2005|From Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana lawmakers have just over two weeks to chart their hurricane-ravaged state's future, weighing matters as varied as new building codes, tax breaks and how employment benefits are calculated, and then answering the big question: how to pay for it all.

Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco called a special session starting today for the Legislature to address 77 hurricane-related issues. The session has to end by Nov. 22, two days before Thanksgiving.

"Frankly, I think it's too much to do in 16 days, but we'll do our best," Democratic Sen. Butch Gautreaux said.

Looming over the session is the already $971-million hole in the state's $18.7-billion budget for the 2005-06 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Blanco shrunk that hole by about half Saturday, cutting $431 million out of the state budget by slashing spending across state agencies.

Few areas of state government beyond road repair and the military office spearheading hurricane recovery efforts were spared in Blanco's cuts, with the deepest being a $222-million hit to healthcare services and a $71-million cut in spending on public colleges.

The Legislature could vote to put all or some of that money back, but the state constitution still requires a balanced budget.

One of the tasks awaiting lawmakers when they return to the statehouse is figuring out how to calculate property taxes for homeowners whose properties were damaged or washed away by hurricanes Katrina or Rita.

Property tax bills are normally mailed at the end of the year, but some lawmakers want to postpone the deadline for taxes on those homes.

Other topics Blanco is asking lawmakers to address during the special session include reorganizing the levee districts, changing state building codes and requiring all insurers that offer property insurance anywhere in Louisiana to offer it statewide.

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