Despite being under a “state of emergency” due to Friday’s wintry weather, members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee braved rain, sleet and snow to get their first look at Governor Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2015.
Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols presented a brief overview of the nearly $25 billion spending plan, saying it is $600 million less than the current year’s state budget. Despite the reduction in overall spending, the budget proposal does include more than $60 million for pay hikes for state workers. And, for the first time in several years, it adds more money to higher education. Nichols admits a substantial portion of the $142 million additional spending on colleges and universities will be funded by anticipated increases in college tuition and fees.
The Governor’s Office is allocating an addition $3 million for the “Student Scholarships” program, also known as vouchers. That program will cost the state $46 million next year, paying private and parochial school tuition for some 8,100 students.
Nichols explained these additional funding proposals are possible because the state’s income sources are better than they have been for the past several years.
“Revenues have stabilized,” Nichols says, “And I think that stability will continue to improve, and our economy will continue to grow.”
House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, mindful of last session’s budget battle that continued nearly to the closing gavel, asked Nichols for reassurance that this proposed spending plan is not built on one-time revenues.
“What I’m asking is, is this ‘real’ money?” Kleckley quizzed Nichols.
Nichols assured him that the budget is based on recurring revenues, with one-time money only going toward non-recurring expenses.
The House Appropriations Committee weeds through the budget proposal first, and committee chairman Jim Fannin says they’ll likely begin working on it the first day of the session, March 10.