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Dardenne tries to fool again on budget

Over carrying out his statutory duties, Louisiana’s Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne tried to fool us once. He’s trying to do it again.

My most recent column for the Baton Rouge Advocate took Dardenne and his boss Gov. John Bel Edwards to task for technically breaking the law in their most recent presentation to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. Dardenne presented a budget using numbers concocted by economists for his office and for the Legislature, but which had not gained approval of the Revenue Estimating Conference.

The REC requires unanimity to assign revenue forecasts. One member, House Speaker Taylor Barras, has refused to change general fund estimates from those accepted at the Jun. 26, 2018 meeting, although he asked at the most recent meeting to revise numbers associated with dedicated funds, many of which have yet to receive an official forecast. Dardenne and the other two members rejected that.

Thus, legally Dardenne must use numbers generated at that 6/26/18 meeting, if he has any to use at all. Instead, he tried to justify his ability to use the desired, but unapproved, numbers with a tortured reading of the law and Constitution, and I called him on it.

So, Dardenne tried to have another bite of the apple, in a letter to the editor. Among other things, he defended his previous action by alleging “There has been no revenue forecast by the REC for Fiscal Year (FY) 20. The only FY20 forecast was in June 2018 as part of a long-range projection of revenue, not as an ‘official forecast’ for FY20.”

That’s not true. On page 1 of a document from the 6/26 meeting entitled “REVENUE ESTIMATING CONFERENCE FISCAL YEAR 20-22 FORECAST” listing sources including the general fund, stamped at the bottom is “OFFICIAL FORECAST ADOPTED” dated by hand “6-26-18” (and also notes “with technical corrections”). If this doesn’t denote an official forecast – and in all previous documents, it appears this is how these are indicated as such – what does?

As to Dardenne’s rejection of Barras’ offer, he wrote “The Speaker offered a proposal to use current data to recognize some revenue (dedications), but to use year-old data for the state general fund. This was properly rejected by the other three members of the REC because there can be only one forecast, which should include all sources of revenue based on consistent data.”

This, like his explanation to the JLCB to skirt the law, is gobbledygook. The REC “shall establish an official forecast for each fiscal year which shall be derived and revised” by law. It is to establish an official forecast for the ensuing fiscal year by Oct. 15 (it didn’t, not even meeting until November), revise in January (it didn’t), and again in March for the official presented budget to the Legislature. However, it may meet at any time if two of the four members wish, and it has done so several times since November.

There “can be only one forecast,” but it may be revised at any time. Barras asked for one that relied upon the June general fund numbers, because he had doubts about the validity of estimates of that afterwards, and numbers generated later for other items. It would have been one forecast. Dardenne rejected that.

Nothing legally prevented the REC from enacting Barras’ suggestion, even if in the general fund’s case it would use data several months old. That “official” forecast could then be modified at any time if so desired. Again, the data Dardenne wanted to use he was unable to use, thus leading him to ignoring the law, only because of his action of nixing Barras’ request.

And, for good measure, Dardenne’s letter also threw in this: “There has not been a ‘40 percent increase in state-generated dollars’ as” I wrote. In fact, for fiscal year 2016 the state spent excluding federal dollars $17.897 billion, while for FY 2019 it is on course to spend $19.891 billion, or an increase of 11.1 percent. This is more than twice the rate of inflation but not 40 percent, which is a figure I used from another source and, while past columns of mine correctly noted the increase I should have but didn’t check the figures from the other source on this occasion.

Maybe Dardenne wrote the letter to point out that, because his excuses concerning the actual subject of the column sure aren’t convincing. The fact remains, Dardenne didn’t follow the law in his presentation. He closed his letter by observing “All citizens are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts, even in an election year.” He needs to stand in front of a mirror and repeat that to himself.

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