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Budget Balanced -- For Now

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The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget met Thursday to resolve the $313-million shortfall leftover from the past fiscal year.

“This has been a very useful exercise, I think, for us to be going through,” Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said, referring to meetings held with lawmakers who last month refused to approve the governor’s plan for eliminating the deficit.

“As a result of that exercise, the cut to Higher Ed being proposed today is approximately $12-million instead of $18-million.”

But he warned them the cuts they’ll have to consider next month – due to the current year shortfall  discussed by the Revenue Estimating Conference Tuesday – will go much deeper.

“Greg (Albrecht) told us he believed the shortfall was approximately $257-million. Manfred (Dix), our other economist, believes that number was $464-million,” Dardenne advised the committee. “Unfortunately, neither one of them believes things are going to get better, or that we’re not going to be facing a deficit.”

“We need to find some more optimistic economists,” Senate Finance chair Eric LaFleur muttered.

But Senator Sharon Hewitt of Slidell kept looking at the balance sheets, and asked why they couldn’t get into the pots of money known as statutory dedications – stat deds.

“There’s money in stat deds,” she observed. “So isn’t that money just sort of sitting around?”

“The Legislature has made a decision by statute to say that a certain source of revenue is going to be dedicated for a particular purpose,” Dardenne replied. “It’s dedicated because you said they’re that important.”

“Well, maybe that’s why we’ve had a deficit for the last seven year,” Hewitt fired back. “We’re dedicating more and more funds. We dedicated some funds this last session, did we not? It’s like a nightmare that won’t ever end.”

The committee voted unanimously to accept the governor’s recommended cuts, however, putting the state budget back into balance until January 17th. That’s when the REC meets again, to recognize how far out of balance state revenues and expenditures are, within the current fiscal year budget.