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House, Senate negotiators reach budget deal

Last Modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2013 9:26 PM

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Lawmakers negotiating next year's $25 billion budget struck a tentative deal Wednesday that includes a $69 million increase in public school funding, in a compromise they hope can get enough support to keep them out of a special session.

The hand-shake agreement for the 2013-14 budget was reached among nine legislative leaders and backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, in the waning hours of the two-month legislative session.

"I want to praise both legislative branches. I think they've worked very hard. I think it's been a good process. I think the end result is a very good budget for the people of Louisiana," Jindal said.

The deal still must get the support of a majority of lawmakers for final passage.

Negotiators say they'll be presenting the compromise plan to their individual delegations Thursday morning for consideration, with hopes an agreement will be final before the legislative session must end at 6 p.m.

"There is an agreement in principle," said Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

The deal includes a $69 million increase for local school districts sought by House Democrats that Jindal said he will seek to make a recurring funding boost, rather than a $50 million one-time teacher pay bonus that had been proposed by the Senate.

Jindal would get funding to expand his statewide voucher program that sends students to private schools with taxpayer dollars as well. The program would grow to $45 million next year, doubling in size.

Edwards said the amount of patchwork, one-time dollars from items such as land sales and legal settlements that are slated to pay for continuing programs will be limited to about $30 million to $40 million in the spending plan.

That would address concerns from House Republicans who disagree with the level of one-time in the Senate version of the budget. They blame the use of such funding for repeated cycles of budget shortfalls.

Jindal agreed to sign two bills sought by conservative Republican representatives, nicknamed the "fiscal hawks," seeking to limit the use of one-time money for ongoing expenses in later years and make changes to the budget process.

Rep. Cameron Henry, a member of the conference committee working on the budget, said it was premature to declare the deal done, because negotiators had to go back and sell the proposal to their colleagues.

"That's a rough draft of what it is. It hasn't been finalized," said Henry, R-Metairie.

House and Senate leaders spent much of Wednesday out of public view trading ideas and seeking a compromise for the spending plan that will fund government services and programs for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The fiscal hawks, the black caucus and the Democratic caucus worked together on the House version of the budget that was rewritten by the Senate, and the unlikely alliance has continued as the House and Senate haggle over a final deal on the spending plans.

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