Friday, June 23, 2006

Legiswatch 6/23/06

I have my UNO e-mail forward to my regular account, and occasionally I'll get some rather illuminating e-mails, like the announcement regarding the Katrina 5K Run/Walk. My favorite, however, are the Legiswatch e-mails, an informative compilation of UNO-related issues in legislation.

Unfortunately, I've been unable to locate a web edition of "Legiswatch", and seeing how informative these synopses can be, I've decided to crosspost Legiswatch updates here as I receive them.

LEGISWATCH

June 23, 2006

From: Robert Brown
Vice Chancellor for Governmental, Community and Diversity Affairs

The 2006 regular legislative session closed on a relatively quiet note at 6 p.m.,June 19 with few of the epic battles and last-minute conference committee budget shenanigans which observers of the process in the capitol are accustomed to seeing just before the legislature adjourns "sine die" (literally, the final day). The end was largely anticlimactic since, as one legislator put it, "I think that every member (read "legislator") got pretty much what they wanted or needed."

For the first time in recent memory, the House concurred in the slew of Senate amendments to HB1 when it came back to the House chamber for consideration on Monday morning. There was scarcely a murmur as House Appropriations Committee chairman, John Alario, answered a few perfunctory questions after which the bill passed unanimously. The whole thing took less than 20 minutes. This was largely due to the $585M in additional revenue which the Revenue Estimating Conference certified in mid-May, providing ample time for the legislature to appropriate a substantial part of it for the upcoming fiscal year. In addition, the legislature had the pleasant task of appropriating a huge portion of the $4.6B in aid provided by Congress to address Katrina- and Rita-related disaster issues.

Along with most other state agencies, public higher education institutions were the beneficiaries of the increased revenue, with the House and Senate adding more than $117 million for higher education to the budget which Go. Blanco submitted to the legislature in February. This included the full funding of $36.4M in mandated costs (classified merit pay increases, medical insurance premiums and retirement benefits), a $12M pool for hurricane-related enrollment management challenges, and $21.5M in additional funding for general operating expenses. While the numbers representing the University of New Orleans’ portion are encouraging, they still fall far short of restoring the $6.4 million cut imposed in the November special session and the substantial loss of tuition and fee revenue resulting from post-Katrina enrollment declines. Perhaps the most welcome increase, however, was the $31 million appropriated for a faculty pay raise. This money will be distributed according to plans developed by the institutions and approved by the Board of Regents.

There were a number of other rather important items, but I won't list each of them here. For more detailed information on higher education and UNO's final budget numbers, go to www.legis.state.la.us, click on HB1 and scroll down to SCHEDULE 19 (pp 171-208).

On other matters, state lawmakers have authored 21 constitutional amendments which will be considered in two elections - 13 on Sept. 30, and the remaining eight on Nov. 7. Among the more far-reaching (and more controversial) of these are proposals: to merge the seven New Orleans assessors into one office; consolodate the area's levee districts; and new restrictions on state and local agencies' authority to expropriate private property for economic development use by a third party. These issues will require some effort if citizens are to make informed choices on them. With that in mind, I will provide LEGISWATCH briefing summaries in the days leading up to the elections.

The first post-Katrina legislative season - special sessions in November and February and the recent regular session - has come to a merciful and generally painless end. One can now hope that all will remain quiet on the state legislative front until April 30, 2007, the first day of next year's regular session. That, by the way, will be a "fiscal only" session so it should make for interesting times. For observations, questions or advice on LEGISWATCH, please e-mail me at rwbrown@uno.edu. I intend to keep the information flowing throughout the year with occasional dispatches.

Have a safe and enjoyable summer!

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