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La. House takes up budget compromise Friday

Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Building blocks for a $24.7 billion budget compromise easily cleared the Louisiana House on Friday, paving the way for debate on the spending plans for next year.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly supported proposals to trim tax breaks for big box retailers, the film industry and the oil and gas industry.

They also agreed to bills tweaking the budget process, to limit the use of patchwork funding for ongoing programs. And they backed a tax amnesty program, which would stretch over 30 months and allow delinquent taxpayers to pay overdue taxes with eliminated or lessened penalties as a way to generate upfront cash for the budget.

Those measures were sent to the Senate — and debate then began on the budget bill.

House leaders were supporting an alternative to the 2013-14 budget proposal submitted by Gov. Bobby Jindal for the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

Lawmakers objected to Jindal's proposal to use $500 million in uncertain financing from property sales, legal settlements, fund sweeps and other items that haven't yet happened and that would only drum up money for one year.

The House compromise would replace those dollars for ongoing services with more than $60 million raised from trimming tax break programs, $133 million in cuts to state agencies and the anticipation of $200 million generated from the tax amnesty program for its first year.

To make the numbers balance, however, the compromise would use some short-term fixes, like the dollars from the amnesty program, and assumes $90 million in improved revenue estimates that haven't yet been projected.

Questions have been raised about whether the numbers work. The Legislature Fiscal Office analysis, for example, doesn't confirm estimates of how much could be raised by the amnesty program, saying the collection rates were unclear.

Leaders of the Republican delegation, the Democratic caucus and the black caucus worked together to devise the final deal.

They praised the show of bipartisanship as asserting legislative independence in a state where the final version of the budget passed by lawmakers often looks like the proposal submitted by the governor.

Jindal opposes pieces of the proposal that change tax break programs, calling anything that raises new revenue for the state a tax hike. He suggested that tag would fit about $40 million generated by the House plan.

Supporters of the plan said they were closing corporate tax loopholes to help stop deep cuts to health services and public colleges and didn't consider the tax break changes a tax hike.