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Gazing into the Budget Crystal Ball

Sue Lincoln

When the Revenue Estimating Conference met last Thursday, they only found an additional $79-million to help with the FY 2016 budget shortfall.

“We still have a long way to go,” House Speaker Chuck Kleckley declared.

Senate President John Alario was marginally more optimistic.

“We’re getting closer, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” was Alario’s pronouncement.

With 24 days left in the session, I asked Kleckley and Alario to gaze into the crystal ball and make a few predictions about the budget.

“I think we can probably answer that better after we get it off the House floor,” Kleckley said, referring to the budget bill — HB 1, which will be debated by the full House on Thursday.

“The House’s goal is to make sure that we fill up Higher Ed and that we do everything we can to fully fund them,” Kleckley said of the lower chamber’s priorities. “We do everything we can to fully fund healthcare. And, at the end of the day, when we send a budget over to the Senate, that’s what we want it to look like.”

Senate President Alario doesn’t expect that budget will leave much wiggle room for the upper chamber, especially with Governor Jindal’s guardrails in place — the demand for no net tax increase, backed by a budget veto threat.

“That’s the toughest part and we’re working diligently to try to do that,” Alario said of the “swim lanes”, as he calls the governor’s tax policy. “We think if we can make it veto-proof, that’ll help us all.”

Many House members have agreed to come back for a veto-override session, if needed. What about the Senate?

“We’re not at that point, so we’re not ready to make that decision,” Alario hedged.

But Alario admits the only available end game could be playing kick the can.

“There’s no time in this session for us to solve all of the state’s long-term problems,” the Senate president stated. “I think what we’ll do is try to work with the next governor and the next legislature and try to get this on a sound footing.”

The budget plan, as it currently stands, is shaky. It’s still short of funding to make Higher Ed and healthcare whole. Some of the revenue-raising bills the House approved on May 7 do not fit within the governor’s guardrails.

And Louisiana Association of Business and Industry president Stephen Waguespack — who is an attorney — has made no secret of his belief the votes on many of those revenue raising bills were unconstitutional. The measures passed by a simple majority, not the two-thirds majority the state constitution requires.