La. House GOP leaders outline priorities for new tax dollars

June 20, 2018 - 8:37 pm

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — If new tax dollars are raised this special session, House Republican leaders outlined their priorities Wednesday night for spending it.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 18-4 for a plan sponsored by its chairman, Republican Rep. Cameron Henry, to divvy up $420 million in additional sales tax money in the budget year that starts July 1.

The plan would shield college campuses from cuts, stop elimination of the food stamp program and fund the TOPS tuition program at 90 percent. Health care services for the poor, elderly and disabled — which were already protected in the budget passed earlier this year — would keep their full financing level.

Sheriffs still would face cuts, along with state-run public schools, economic development and agriculture programs.

The budget proposal, advanced to the full House for debate, assumes lawmakers would renew 0.4 percent of a 1 percent state sales tax that expires July 1. But that's far from certain. Lawmakers could pass more, less or nothing.

College students asking lawmakers to fully finance the TOPS program packed the hearing room Wednesday, many wearing T-shirts with the logos of out-of-state schools, suggesting they could have chosen to attend those schools rather than stay in Louisiana.

The budget bill backed by the majority-GOP House committee was opposed in a near-bloc by Democrats who want to see more taxes passed than the spending plan assumes.

The approach also deviates from a Senate-crafted plan that was approved in the last legislative session and signed into law. That plan left $506 million in items unfunded, with any new dollars raised during the latest special session expected to be divvied up on a pro rata basis across all the items and agencies.

Senate leaders have said they don't support rewriting the plans. The full House will take up the budget bill Thursday.

The special session must end June 27.

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