SWLA lawmakers prepare for budget session

Fresh off a special redistricting session, Louisiana lawmakers will now move on to tackling a $1.6 billion budget shortfall as the regular legislative session begins on Monday.

"It's the largest deficit we've had in many decades," said State Rep. Mike Danahay (D-Sulphur). "It's going to be a very difficult process. It's going to be a very painful process."

Unlike the federal government, the state is required to balance its budget.

Political pundits have nicknamed this year's session "The Cliff Year," since federal funding the state had been using to balance its budget, including President Obama's stimulus, is starting to run dry.

"A lot of the stimulus money that was there and available to us is no longer there. That's part of it. [Also] a lot of the recovery dollars from the storms are now diminished," said Danahay.

Lawmakers say they will have no choice than to make cuts to nearly every state agency, including to education and health care.

"The two largest areas of the budget are health care and education," said State Rep. Brett Geymann. "When we look at a budget shortfall, there is no getting around the fact that those two areas are going to face some reduction."

For the first time in state history, Republicans control both the legislature and governor's mansion, but lawmakers say tackling the shortfall won't be a partisan issue.

"The battle line will be between the conservative part of the legislature and the more moderate part in the sense that many of us on the conservative side think we have to slow down the spending, get it to a level that we can sustain," said Geymann.

Geymann said he would not be surprised if lawmakers wait until the final hours of session to reach a budget agreement. He says there are many controversial issues lawmakers will have to address before they balance the budget.

One of the most talked about issues is Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to privatize or sell three state prisons, including one in Allen Parish, as a way to save money and help balance the budget.

Lawmakers have until June 23rd at 6 p.m. to reach a budget agreement.

Lawmakers will also consider more than 840 pieces of legislation, from requiring welfare recipients to be drug tested to increasing taxes on tobacco and to building a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capitol.

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