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Louisiana Restructures State Budget

Lawmakers cut about $600 million in spending and approve tax breaks to lure businesses.

November 23, 2005|From Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. — Lawmakers wrapped up a special legislative session Tuesday after rebalancing Louisiana's deficit-riddled budget and creating tax breaks to entice businesses back to hurricane-damaged areas.

Nearly all of Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's initiatives were approved during the 17-day session. Some lawmakers said they were disappointed that the governor didn't offer more to help the thousands of people displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"I wish we could have done a lot more to help people who are around the country dispersed and who are homeless," said Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, chairman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus.

The biggest-ticket item approved in the session's waning hours was a restructuring of Louisiana's $18-billion budget to account for a $959-million drop in state tax income.

The plan cuts more than $600 million in spending, slicing healthcare services and money for public colleges. It also taps the state's "rainy day" fund and uses the surplus from last year.

Borrowing proposals, including plans initially suggested by Blanco, were scrapped. Budget cuts made by the Democratic governor before the session were retained, including the elimination of many local projects.

"We spread out the pain as much as we could," said Democratic Rep. John Alario, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "It tells the rest of the country that we have taken care of our business."

The session was marked by two weeks of bickering over where to cut the budget and who had the authority to do it. At one point, the Legislative Black Caucus, a group normally counted by Blanco as an ally, sued to stop cuts she had tried to implement by executive order.

The lawsuit was rendered moot when legislators approved Blanco's cuts.

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