Weather coincides with state spending plan presentation

Gov. Bobby Jindal spun out teasers in the days leading up to his unveiling of the state budget.

Here’s what legislators know: The state spending plan for the fiscal year that starts this summer will expand services for the disabled and increase funding for higher education. Those have been thorny issues for the governor in past years as advocates for the disabled and college leaders clamored for more dollars.

Jindal threw out another bone Thursday by announcing additional funding for the preservation of the French language in Louisiana.

More details about the governor’s state operating budget should arrive Friday, when aides deliver the thick document to legislators, assuming the weather cooperates. The spending plan — entailing how colleges, public schools, prisons and other expenses will be funded — has been in the works for weeks.

Weather reports cast a cloud over some legislators’ travel plans Thursday. The forecast calls for a cold, snowy day across much of Louisiana.

“I hope I can get there,” said state Sen. Fred Mills, R-St. Martinville.

State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, also expressed concerns about making the trek to Baton Rouge during possibly icy weather. “Weather may be an issue in (the) morning,” Geymann said by text message.

The governor’s spokesman, Kyle Plotkin, said no decision had been made Thursday evening on whether the budget presentation will be held as planned. “We’re monitoring the weather closely,” he said.

Louisiana House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, had the governor’s budget proposal in his hands Thursday afternoon. He later sat down with Jindal at the Governor’s Mansion to discuss it.

Fannin, who has to shepherd the budget through the Legislature, expressed concerns about sustaining the budget in the years ahead amid sluggish state revenue growth. “I’m troubled about how we’re going to maintain this level of spending,” he said.

Geymann said he will pore over the budget to make sure there are no accounting gimmicks. He said the budget needs to be fiscally responsible instead of relying on controversial gimmicks such as property sales to pay the bills.

The budget unveiling is just the starting point. Legislators will really dig into the budget when they convene at the State Capitol for their regular session in March.

Last year’s session was contentious. The governor abandoned his tax plan and then watched legislators tear into his budget proposal.

The House and the Senate spent the final days of the legislative session haggling over the final product. They eventually agreed on a budget that gave a slight pay bump to public schoolteachers.