Louisiana Tries to Plug

Budget Holes After Storms

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Lawmakers opened a 17-day special session to consider how to keep the state solvent while still aiding recovery from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The agenda includes considering shifting the oversight of levees and offering tax relief for businesses and residents.

Overshadowing anything lawmakers do will be the gaping hole in the state budget -- a deficit estimated at nearly $1 billion in an $18.7 billion budget for the 2005-06 fiscal year that ends June 30.

Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) cut $431 million from state agencies almost across the board Saturday, including a $222 million hit to health care services and a $71 million cut in spending on public colleges.

The legislature could restore that money, but the state constitution requires a balanced budget, and estimates of lost tax revenue and recovery expenses are rising.

* CARY, Ill. -- Nick Foley, 10, was in critical condition after three pit bulls attacked him and four other people before police shot and killed the dogs, authorities said. Neighbors said the attacks started Saturday afternoon when Foley and Jordan Lamarre, 10, were going door-to-door for a fundraiser and arrived at the home of Scott Sword, 41, who owned the dogs. The dogs broke loose, and when Sword tried to stop them, they bit off his thumb, police said, before attacking Foley's father and a neighbor. Lamarre was in serious condition and Foley's father in good condition, authorities said.

* PHILADELPHIA -- Negotiators for the region's transit agency and its workers exchanged contract proposals Sunday after Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D) urged them to settle the dispute that has crippled public transportation in Philadelphia for a week. The two sides were reviewing each other's proposals late Sunday, said Bob Bedard, spokesman for Transport Workers Union Local 234, which represents most of the 5,300 striking workers of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Administration.

* DELAWARE CITY, Del. -- Two workers died, apparently of nitrogen fumes, while working in a silo at the Valero Energy Corp. oil refinery, officials said. State police identified the men as John Ferguson, 29, and John Lattanzi, 57.

* HOUSTON -- Death-row inmate Charles Victor Thompson, 35, who slipped out of a jail Thursday wearing street clothes, was apprehended in Shreveport, La., Sunday night. The U.S. Marshals Office had offered $10,000 for the capture of Thompson, who was convicted in 1999 for the shooting deaths of ex-girlfriend Dennise Hayslip, 39, and her boyfriend, Darren Keith Cain, 30. After a failed appeal, Thompson was sentenced Oct. 28 and was awaiting transfer to a state prison.

* MIAMI -- A speedboat carrying 37 suspected migrants capsized off Key West, killing two Cuban women whose bodies were found trapped under the boat, the U.S. Coast Guard said Sunday. After the boat was spotted Saturday, a Coast Guard rescue boat took about 15 people off the speedboat, leaving life jackets for the rest. It was returning for the others when the speedboat capsized.

-- From News Services