U.S. Markets open in 7 hrs 57 mins

La. Income forecasting panel boosts its estimates

Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, left, LSU economist Jim Richardson, middle, and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, right talk after a meeting of the Revenue Estimating Conference on Wednesday, May 15, 2013, in Baton Rouge, La. All three men are members of the Revenue Estimating Conference, which increased income forecasts for the state, giving lawmakers more money to spend. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Louisiana lawmakers have new dollars to add into next year's budget after the state income forecasting panel Wednesday boosted its projections for state tax collections.

The Revenue Estimating Conference adjusted next year's forecast by $155 million — $65 million more than what was assumed in the House-passed version of the 2013-14 budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Economists said the improved projections were driven by better-than-expected individual income tax collections. Manfred Dix, the chief economist for the governor's Office of Planning and Budget, described "a surprisingly healthy growth rate" in personal income taxes.

"My hunch is that the labor market is doing very well in Louisiana," said Dix, whose income projections were adopted by the conference.

The four-member income forecasting panel also bumped up projections for this year by $129 million, which could help fill gaps in the current year's budget or be used for other items.

The news was a welcome change to lawmakers who have been hit with repeated years of budget deficits and shortfalls.

The changes will give the Senate Finance Committee more wiggle room in crafting the Senate's version of spending plans for this year and next year. The committee starts combing through the House-approved budget later this week.

"It just looks like it's a brighter forecast. It makes me feel better for the state," said Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, chairman of the Finance Committee.

Personal income tax was expected to grow by 8 percent over last year and another 4 percent in the upcoming budget year.