ATLANTA -- The Louisiana legislature last week approved an $11.8 billion all-funds 1995 budget in a session devoted to state spending that ended 13 days earlier than scheduled.
As part of the budget package approved last Wednesday, lawmakers authorized a $1.7 billion five-year capital spending plan. The capital plan, however, must proceed under strict limits on debt issuance, which once again cap tax-supported state bonds in the upcoming fiscal year to $200 million.
The guidelines were first set during the 1993 legislative session and have been in effect for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
"I view the session as an overall success, and one that maintained the limits on borrowing set last year," said Rae Logan, director of Louisiana's state bond commission.
The lawmaker's capital spending bill calls for about $900 million of borrowing over the five-year period, including $231 million in the "priority one" category. The debt portion of Louisiana's capital spending plan employs a system that ranks bond-funded projects in terms of five separate categories of urgency. The remainder of the capital budget will be funded with cash.
A spokesman for Gov. Edwin Edwards said last Friday that the governor does not see "any great problems" with the budget and capital spending bills. As of last Friday, Edwards had not yet signed any of the bills sent to him by lawmakers, according to his legal office.
Included in the $11.8 billion appropriations bill is the final $50.5 milion of the state's fiscal 1993 surplus, which will be used to fund economic development projects sought by Edwards. In addition, the appropriations bill requires that the state use $125 million from the recent settlement of a lawsuit with Texaco to pay down the unfunded liabilities of its retirement system.
Legislation was also approved that will place before voters in November a constitutional amendment to limit the taxing and bond-issuing authority of the Louisiana Recovery District, which was set up in 1989.
As requested by Edwards, legislators also approved favorable tax treatment for small oil and gas producers. But an Edwards-backed bill that would increase taxes on hazardous wastes was killed in the House.
New Orleans officials had particular reason to be pleased with the outcome of the just-ended legislative session.
According to state officials, Edwards plans to sign a measure raising New Orleans' debt limit by about $90 million to $590 million. In addition, lawmakers have approved $125 million of bonds to fund the city's Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, including $20 million of "priority one" debt.
The newly-approved debt will permit construction to begin on a $247 million expansion plan for the center now scheduled to begin in spring 1995, according to convention center officials.
But despite the early end to the session, which had been scheduled to last until June 8, Lousiana's lawmakers are not finished for the year.
Following a proclamation issued by Edwards last Wednesday, they must return to Baton Rouge on June 6 for a special 25-day session that will consider a wide variety of matters that could not be considered in the just-ended session. Under a constitutional amendment passed last fall, fiscal sessions are restricted to issues concerning state pending.
When Edwards first began discussing a possible special session early this year, he indicated it would focus on crime. Among the 68 items listed in his Wednesday proclamation, many concern this area, including a ban on handguns for citizens under 20.
But the governor is also now seeking approval of legislation with implications for the state's finances.
These include: a provision for stricter feasibility studies for projects in the state's capital construction program, equalization of taxes paid by domestic and foreign corporations, reinstatement of the "prevailing wage" law to mandate payment of union wages on public projects, and reduction of unemployment compensation taxes.
In addition, Edwards is asking lawmakers to put before voters a constitutional amendment that would give the state treasurer more latitude to invest funds from the state's $500 million educational trust fund.
The governor also wants lawmakers to approve a teacher evaluation program, changes in state laws on video poker, and a repeal of sanctions against South Africa.
During a special legislative session in Louisiana, lawmakers can only consider items called for by the governor.