Though Louisiana continues to struggle through deep budget gaps, House and Senate leaders aren’t proposing that they slash their own spending.
A $98 million financing proposal for legislative agencies in the upcoming budget year, introduced Tuesday, would not make any cuts to the House, Senate, legislative auditor and other offices that work for lawmakers.
Meanwhile, other state programs and services face steep reductions in the financial year that begins July 1 because Louisiana faces a $750 million shortfall.
The Legislative Budgetary Control Council, a panel of legislative leaders, backed the funding recommendations without objection.
After the meeting, Senate President John Alario and House Speaker Taylor Barras said the proposal was a starting point that could change as it winds its way through House and Senate approval.
“We’ll be reviewing it as we go through the process,” said Alario, R-Westwego.
Barras, R-New Iberia, said the Legislature must adhere to constitutional mandates that many other departments don’t have. He said it is tough to make cuts and meet those requirements.
In a special session that ended last month, lawmakers agreed to trim $2 million in spending from their budget before June 30. But the legislative budget proposal would not continue that reduction next year, instead bringing spending back to the precut level.
The proposal advanced by House and Senate leaders is at odds with Gov. John Bel Edwards’ recommendation that the legislative budget take a 10 percent cut next year.
The legislative budget has grown from $86 million in the 2008-09 fiscal year, despite reductions across other agencies and continued cuts to public colleges during that time.
Under the recommendations approved Tuesday, the House budget would remain at $29 million and the Senate budget at $21.8 million.
The Legislative Auditor’s Office, which audits government agencies, would continue to receive $35 million. The Legislative Fiscal Office, which analyzes the costs of bills and other financial issues, would maintain its $2.9 million funding. The Legislative Budgetary Control Council, which covers expenses shared by the House and Senate, would keep getting $8.6 million. And the budget for the Louisiana State Law Institute, which studies legal issues, would stay at $1.1 million.
During Tuesday’s council meeting, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, called for a review of the Senate policy that allows full-time salaried employees to earn up to 250 hours in overtime pay for their work on a legislative session.
She questioned why people who earn more than $100,000 a year receive overtime on top of their salaries, and she said the pay system is being abused by some workers.
“I do not think that overtime is managed well,” she said.
Alario defended the overtime, saying if the Senate didn’t offer the add-on pay, he’d likely have to pay higher salaries to keep employees with years of knowledge. He told Peterson if she knew of any abuse, she should report it to the employee’s supervisor.
“I have no inclination of anything that’s not proper there,” Alario said.