Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Senators question House cuts to merit pay raises

Senators questioned House-backed plans to strip pay raises from government employees and cut more than 3,400 government jobs, as the Senate's budget-crafting committee opened its hearings Monday on next year's $27.9 billion budget proposal.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee also worried about deep cuts proposed to public colleges, as the state's higher education chief warned the cuts could devastate campuses and would be more severe than cuts in nearly every other public college system in the country.

Lawmakers are grappling with a $1.3 billion drop in state general fund revenue. Lawmakers in the state House added millions of dollars in one-time money from a planned tax amnesty program and an expired insurance fund.

State Sens. John Alario, D-Westwego, and Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport, questioned the House bill provisions that would stop state employees from getting an annual 4 percent pay raise on their anniversary dates.

"As much as some folks may want to hold back those raises, it's not as easy to do with the stroke of a pen," said Sen. John Alario, D-Westwego.

State Budget Officer Ray Stockstill said the Legislature cannot require the withholding of merit pay raises. He said that authority is onstitutionally given to the state Civil Service Commission.

The commission is scheduled to take up the issue at its June 3 regularly monthly meeting.

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