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State Budget Woes Continue, Despite Distractions

Tracy Conway

There are lots of distractions right now -- LSU vs. Alabama, hunting season, great weather, the elections – but Louisiana’s budget woes haven’t diminished. Instead, they’ve grown again.

When the Board of Regents met in Ruston yesterday, Higher Ed Commissioner Joseph Rallo says they discussed what colleges and universities could be facing in the coming months.

“We had the college presidents talk about how they would adjust their budgeting if there is a mid-year cut – which we expect,” Rallo stated.

Late last week, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee finally got the numbers for the end of the previous fiscal year: $313-million in the red.

“So we have a shortfall of this 313 that we have to address before the end of this fiscal year,” Senate Finance chairman Eric LaFleur responded, with a sigh.

There’s also an outstanding federal bill for $190-million, due to Medicaid disallowance of advance lease payments from the public-private partner hospitals. And then there are bills for the August floods.

The negative numbers angered Prairieville Republican Rep. Tony Bacala.

“We raised more than a billion dollars in taxes, and this is what happens?” Bacala remonstrated. “Tell me what we need next year. Tell me what you’re going to ask for -- it’s important. What are y’all going to ask for next year?”
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne reminded Bacala that state agencies have till November 15th to submit budget requests to him.

“What that recommendation is going to be, I can’t tell you,” Dardenne said, frankly. “I do know, as you’ve heard, we got big problems on the horizon with shortfalls in revenue from the previous year and from this year. And that certainly doesn’t suggest that there’s going to be more money available.”

Meanwhile, the Tax Structure Reform Task Force report was released this week. It suggests reducing sales tax, cutting some individual income tax exemptions, and phasing out the business inventory tax. Yet some lawmakers are already grumbling about the report, saying the task force focused too much on raising state income, instead of suggesting how to reduce state outgo.