State budget takes center-stage today in Baton Rouge

By By Jim Beam / American Press

The state’s $24.7 billion budget for the new fiscal year starting July 1 takes center-stage today as Louisiana legislators

begin the fourth week of their fiscal session.

Committees will also hold hearings on

bills that would change the homestead exemption, reform the property

assessment process,

create a higher education district to help fund colleges and

universities and set up a constitutional convention to deal with

financial issues.

The House Appropriations Committee will take up House Bill 1 that contains the state spending plan for fiscal year 2013-14.

During the hearing, Kristy Nichols, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s commissioner of administration, will offer amendments that restore

funds to some programs.

Nichols said the changes are being offered after the administration worked with those affected by the programs that had their

funding reduced and heard previous testimony from the public.

The amendments would restore $700,000

for breast and cervical cancer screenings at LSU hospitals, $1 million

towards the Department

of Children and Family Service’s Family Violence Prevention and

Intervention Program, $1.1 million for the Office of Elderly

Affairs’ senior prescription drug program and $1.3 million in

additional funding for the Louisiana State Police’s Concealed

Handgun Permit Unit.

Nichols said money for those programs will come from excess self-generated funding from the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco

Control and an undesignated excess fund balance in the Medical Assistance Program and Fraud Detection Unit.

The Appropriations Committee will also take up HB 452 that transfers $494.8 million in various funds into the Overcollections

Fund. All of that funding is in the higher education budget for the next fiscal year.

An effort is expected to be made to remove $500 million in one-time money from the budget. If House members can’t find a way

to restore the funding, that responsibility would end up in the state Senate, a process that has become an annual routine.

Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, is a leader of the “Fiscal Hawks,” a group of legislators who want to reform the budget

process.

“We want to fix the problem, not the Senate,” Geymann said last week. “There are 105 members here who can do it.”

Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, is sponsor of House Resolution 1 that requires consideration of the budget at least 16 days

before the last day of the session. It will be heard Tuesday by the House and Governmental Affairs Committee.  

The purpose of the resolution is to avoid last-minute consideration of the budget and give legislators time to override possible

vetoes before the session adjourns. Lawmakers have been reluctant to return to Baton Rouge for veto sessions.

Homestead exemption bills will be heard today by the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, has

two homestead exemption bills that are constitutional amendments

requiring a two-thirds

vote and approval by voters statewide. HB 330 would reduce the

current $75,000 homestead exemption to $25,000. HB 331 would

impose property taxes on the first $10,000 of the $75,000

homestead exemption. The rest would still be homestead exempt.

Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, and No. 2 man in the House, is sponsor of HB 521. It would raise the homestead exemption to

$90,000, but make the first $10,000 of that taxable.

Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley,

R-Lake Charles, has two assessment procedure bills. HB 369 would require

assessors to

put the previous year’s property assessment on notices going out

that list the value of property that has been reappraised.

Kleckley wants the property assessment difference to be clearly

indicated on the notice.

HB 514 would require assessors to phase in property value increases over a three-year period if the value goes up more than

15 percent during reappraisal. The purpose is to avoid extremely high property assessment increases at one time like some

of those that occurred in Calcasieu Parish after property was reappraised.

Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, has

HB 576 that would create the Higher Education Improvement District. It

would be governed

by a board of five members that would have authority – with public

approval – to levy a property tax of up to 5 mills. Revenues

would be used to supplement funding for colleges and universities.

House and Governmental Affairs on Tuesday will hear HB 88 that sets term limits for statewide elected officials. The measure

by Simone Champagne, R-Erath, would limit them to three consecutive four-year terms.

The legislation would apply to the

lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and

commissioners

of insurance and agriculture. The governor is already limited to

two consecutive four-year terms. Champagne had an identical

constitutional amendment last year, but the vote was 49-49. That

is 21 votes short of the two-thirds (70) needed for approval.

Rep. A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles, is back again with a bill (HB 557) that creates two election districts for the two judges

on the Lake Charles City Court. His legislation never got out of committee last year.

The committee will also hear HB 621 by

Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, that sets up a constitutional

convention. The convention

would convene Jan. 15, 2015, and would be limited to

constitutional changes dealing with financial reform.

Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, has

Senate Bill 74 that will be heard by the Senate Revenue and Fiscal

Affairs Committee. It

would allow everyone over 65 to freeze his or her property

assessments. Current law sets an income threshold of $69,463, which

means persons earning over that amount can’t freeze their

assessments unless they are in special categories like military

veterans or disabled individuals