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Budget Deficit Is Less Than Previously Thought

Wallis Watkins

Lawmakers in Louisiana got good news Thursday. The state’s fiscal cliff isn’t quite as bad as previously expected.

What was once a $994-million budget shortfall for next fiscal year is now just shy of $650 million. Lawmakers were anticipating the state would make about $300 million as a result of federal tax changes passed last year. But it wasn’t official until the Revenue Estimating Conference recognized the funds. Speaker of the House Taylor Barras is a member of the REC.

"Now that it is recognized, our appropriations committee will meet Monday in the house and begin that process of allocating that 346 million," Barras said.

Gov. Edwards has outlined how he'd like to see the money spent. In a statement released Thursday, he called for restoring a $25 million cut to higher education and putting another $50 million towards TOPS.

That would still leave the scholarship program underfunded — and deep cuts would remain in areas like health care and law enforcement.

According to Speaker Barras, enough House members may be willing to support a budget with $650 million in cuts. "I would estimate today that we probably have 53 votes that would allow that to leave and head on to the Senate," Barras said.

Gov. Edwards says passing a budget with $650 million in cuts would be irresponsible and warns he would not sign it into law.

The House is expected to vote on the budget — which is House Bill 1 — next week. If it passes, it would move to the Senate, where they would be able to change it as they see fit.

"How it returns from the Senate and what ultimately House Bill 1 finally looks like, I can't say it will look like exactly how it left the House," said Barras.

Both Edwards and Barras say the option remains for a special session to raise revenue and resolve all or some of the budget shortfall.