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Lawmakers Push Back on Budget 'Shell Game'

State lawmakers refused to approve part of the Jindal administration’s plan for balancing the current budget Friday, making it clear they’re fed up with sweeps of dedicated funds.

“Somebody, sooner or later, has got to stand up and say we’ve got to stop this,” Sen. Robert Adley of Benton remonstrated with the Joint Budget Committee and representatives of the Division of Administration.

Adley, a Republican, chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, and he took great issue with part of the budget-balancing plan to grab $6-million from gasoline taxes — which are dedicated to building and maintaining roads — and shuffle that money to State Police.

“What is the total budget of State Police?” Adley asked.

“Current budget of $428-million,” one of the Division of Administration’s number crunchers responded.

Sen. Mike Walsworth of West Monroe — also a Republican — then wanted to know, “How much has State Police been cut so far this year?”

“Zero,” was the response.

Adley was livid.

“Make State Police share in cuts like everybody else,” he demanded.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said she agreed in principle, though in practice that’s not always possible.

“It’s frustrating,” Nichols said. “There are offices that are funded primarily by dedications and they have not gone through the exercise of having to get efficiencies.”

The Joint Budget Committee voted to keep the $6-million in the highway fund, with Adley admonishing the administration, “There’s a better approach than to keep playing the shell game with the transportation money.”

With the administration due to present the governor’s next budget proposal this Friday, Senate Finance Committee chairman Jack Donahue told Nichols the so-called “shell game” won’t be tolerated as a way to fill that $1.6-billion gap.

“Us going in and taking these dollars out of these funds stops us from having to correct structural deficit problems,” the Mandeville Republican stated.

Nichols promised the 2016 executive budget will address his concerns.

“You are going to see structural fixes, both in recurring efficiencies and in recurring revenue solutions,” Nichols vowed. “I agree with you. The imbalance needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed long-term, and that’s the approach we will take.”

In addition to putting the FY 2016 budget together for Friday, the Division of Administration must now re-craft parts of their fix for the FY 2015 budget gap. They have until March 22 to come up with a plan acceptable to the Joint Budget Committee. If they can’t, the full Legislature is required to go into special session and fix the deficit themselves.