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|Legislative wrangling lessens some budget cuts|
The 2009 regular session of the state Legislature closed last Thursday, but not without some last minute fireworks.
It took lawmakers until 30 minutes before the close of the session to hammer out a compromise on the state's $28 billion budget for the next fiscal year.
State Sen. Mike Walsworth said despite massive budget cuts, northeast Louisiana has a lot to crow about.
"Obviously, the way we used the megafund is the biggest story of the session," said Walsworth, R-West Monroe. "Probably half of the megafund went to northeastern Louisiana."
The state's economic development rapid response fund, or megafund, was created to give the governor a rapid response ability for new economic development opportunities.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has committed more than $140 million of the state megafund to projects in northeast Louisiana, including $50 million for the Foster Farms chicken processing facility in Farmerville and $65 million for automobile start-up V-Vehicle Company, which will locate in the former Guide facility.
Walsworth said the governor's commitments to the region signify a renewed commitment to rebuilding Louisiana's workforce.
Also during the session, Walsworth said lawmakers were successful in efforts to trim massive budget cuts handed down to higher education and healthcare.
Jindal had proposed cutting more than $219 million from college and university budgets and more than $400 million from state healthcare programs.
By working together and making tough decisions, lawmakers were able to trim those cuts in half, according to Walsworth.
"The regret is healthcare and higher education still took some big cuts," Walsworth said. "We are still concerned, but we'll be working from a more realistic position over the next three years."
"I think as a state, we came out better than a lot of them for sure," said Rep. John Anders, D-Vidalia. "It could have been a lot worse."
Funding for a host of area projects fell into jeopardy when Jindal followed through on a pledge to veto any money contained in the state's budget that was contingent on the passage of other bills or laws to be funded.
Since the possibility existed that the money would not be there, Jindal vetoed those projects. However, he informed the Legislature he would give them time to come back with new legislation to fund the projects on existing money.
Lawmakers amended a bill in the House of Representatives to restore most of the governor's vetoes.
Among the projects receiving funding, area councils on aging will receive their grants. Also, municipalities throughout the region will receive money for economic development projects and community development.
All told, northeast Louisiana received more than $14 million in special projects funds.
State Sen. Neil Riser also praised colleagues in the Legislature for their work this session. Riser noted it wasn't just a revenue shortfall lawmakers overcame.
"It was a difficult session because we started off with a $1.3 billion revenue deficit," said Riser, R-Columbia. "The $700 million increase in spending put us at about a $2 billion deficit when the session started -- that's above and beyond the other bills we passed."
One of the bills approved by the Legislature will move the calendar for regular sessions up by as much as three weeks.
Riser said he proposed legislation to move the session earlier to afford state agencies the time to examine their funding and craft better budgets at the close of the regular session.
The session currently ends just five days before the close of the fiscal year, leaving agencies very little time to adjust budgets.
Riser also said there were other reasons for moving the session earlier.
When the adjusted calendar takes affect in 2012, lawmakers will find they have more summer days off to spend with their families, without adding any days to the session calendar.
Riser said the move "just makes sense."