House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, May 26, 2012 7:17 PM
BATON ROUGE — The state budget for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, and some major retirement bills will be the focus of the Legislature when it returns from the Memorial Day holiday, said House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles.
He said at his weekly news conference Thursday that work resumes Tuesday and the House will continue through the weekend, if necessary, to wrap up business by the required 6 p.m. adjournment June 4.
House Bill 1, the $25 billion budget measure, is in the Senate Finance Committee. Kleckley said he anticipates the committee will send it to the Senate floor early in the week and the House will probably get it back before the weekend.
If the House doesn’t go along with Senate changes to the legislation, it would go to a conference committee, which would iron out the differences. The House sent it to the upper chamber with budget reductions totaling $268 million. House conservatives oppose the bill’s use of one-time money for ongoing expenses.
Senators plan to plug some of that one-time money back into the budget, but Kleckley said he isn’t sure how much. He said he and Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, have been meeting with Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to talk about the budget.
“I can’t support any more cuts to higher education,” Kleckley said, noting he has made that clear from the start.
Kleckley said he has talked with McNeese State University President Philip Williams and declared the school can’t take any more cuts. “They are already cut to the bone,” he said. “I respect his decisions.”
Health care, the other part of the budget that isn’t protected from reductions, can’t handle any cuts either, he said.
Kleckley said the Senate will be the first chamber to decide whether lawmakers should use the rainy-day fund to make up forthe $211 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Use of the fund requires a two-thirds vote.
When asked, Kleckley said he believes the votes will be there if the House gets the rainy-day resolution from the Senate.
A cash balance retirement plan for new state workers failed to get the necessary votes Thursday to concur in Senate amendments, but Kleckley said he doesn’t think that will be a problem.
Other major retirement legislation dealing with retirement ages, an increase in employee contributions and the merger of two systems will be heard later next week, he said.
The Louisiana School Employees’ Retirement System would be merged with the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana.
Remaining retirement bills primarily affect members of the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System and higher education workers in the TRSL. Hazardous-duty workers, pre-K through 12th-grade teachers and judges aren’t affected.