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Lawmakers Delay Action on Deficit

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When the Joint Budget Committee met Friday to consider the governor’s plan for remedying the $313-million deficit from Fiscal Year 2016, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne couldn’t resist saying – in effect – “We told you so.”

“We talked at length during all the sessions about the fact that we did not have enough revenue to cover the expenses that had been approved for last year,” Dardenne reminded lawmakers.

Several members of the committee took issue with Dardenne’s statement.

“I believe that the Legislature acted responsibly. We did address the shortfalls in the 2016 budget, and it was not due to any lack of action on the part of the Legislature that we’re here today,” Slidell Senator Sharon Hewitt said, adding, “We left session with a balanced budget.”

Dardenne reminded Hewitt, who is in her first year of her first term in the legislature, that passing a balanced budget is just the start.

“We must also end the year with a balanced budget, not just begin the year with a budget,” Dardenne admonished. “And we recommended to the departments that they start planning on day one of the fiscal year not to spend everything that they had.”

The proposed fix had the governor cutting $277-million via executive order, with budget committee approval needed for the other $36-million. Yet with constituents now bombarding legislators with complaints about the cuts to TOPS, lawmakers – like Monroe Rep.Katrina Jackson -- balked.

“My Speaker is not here. The Senate President is not here. Our leaders are not here. And this is an onerous task that’s being asked of us in the wake of TOPS,” Jackson said, asking if a decision on implementing these cuts could be deferred.

Following several comments from committee members uncomfortable with the idea of cutting $18-million from higher education, the group ultimately decided to wait another month, when they’ll find out more about the status of the current budget. Dardenne said that’s not going to make their decision any less painful.

“The cut that’s going to have to be recommended with the ’17 shortfall? You won’t like it a lot more than where we are today,” the Commissioner warned.

New Orleans Senator J.P. Morrell berated them for their lack of intestinal fortitude.

“You say, ‘I don’t like your cuts’, but don’t offer an alternative. And you keep suggesting that there is some secret money tree that we’re going to shake in the backyard, or there is some agency that has secret money to do this. I think that is misleading the public. But you know what? You’ve got 30 days to find it. The ball is now in the Legislature’s court.”