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LA tightened belt 4 years ago; it can work again

The news about Louisiana’s looming budget deficit probably was beyond what elected officials wanted to hear – current year $341 million, and if spending stays at the current projection factoring in known increases without adding services, it will be a billion dollars more and $1.2 billion less in revenues to cover it.

Some things to note about the issue for this fiscal year:

  • For this year as a whole, this projects to about a 3.5 percent hit on the general fund minus dedicated funds which constitutionally means Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget together can handle the cutting (although in reality, since half the year has gone by, it is a 7 percent real cut) by up to 5 percent in a fund
  • Over half of this, about $5 billion, for disbursement lies in statutory dedications many of which are stable but some potentially unpredictable in cost – for example, higher enrollments and tuitions at state universities through TOPS, those stemming from judicial proceedings, debt service increases, etc. – which must be paid without the budget going into deficit
  • The remainder is not statutorily dedicated and is considered totally discretionary in its treatment, of which almost 34 percent goes to higher education and 40 percent to health care – meaning that potentially if cuts are uniform across agencies at the 3.5 percent level, these two will absorb around $252 million in cuts, or a real reduction in their general fund allocations for the remainder of the fiscal year of 15.6 percent and to their overall budgets of 8 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively
  • About 29 percent, the largest portion, of the general fund goes to the Minimum Foundation Program, but that is the exception to the rule and can be cut at most only 1 percent, or around $27 million, providing less than 10 percent of the amount needed.
  • About $4.35 billion of statutory revenue dedications, as opposed to those of expenditures above, also come into the state’s coffers, but to redirect any of these immediately would require legislation from a special session, so the only savings here would be from operations such as those from executive orders recently issued by Jindal and then subsequent transfers of funds

    Next year’s numbers truly are sobering (although not unreal such as those of 20 years ago were with a $1 billion deficit to a general fund that then was less than $4 billion in generated revenue), a drop of about 13 percent to around $8 billion in revenue for the general fund (note that as recently as May, the forecast for next fiscal year was essentially flat). Jindal wisely has promised not to use the Budget Stabilization Fund monies to tackle this year’s deficit because next year’s really will call for these funds. It also cries out for him to dump the maximum amount of funds from the declared fiscal year 2007-08 surplus into it to use next year.

    This is serious. The head of my budget unit has called a faculty meeting tomorrow on 18 hours notice just to address this. It’s going to take quite a bit of skill to maneuver this just for this year’s alone so Jindal better be prepared to sacrifice his holidays (the budget must be brought in balance 30 days after a deficit projection or else a special session is triggered).

    As for the future, as Jindal wisely has ruled out tax increases that might depress the economy even further, tinkering around the margins as Jindal can do for this fiscal year will be insufficient. Still, to put matters in perspective, the initial revenue forecast after the 2005 hurricane disasters pegged the general fund at $6.6 billion and $700 million worth of cuts made that turned out to be not needed to match realized revenues. If it could be done then, it can be done again.
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