La. lawmakers learn details of latest money woes

La. lawmakers learn details of latest money woes

BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - At the state capitol, the budget crises are becoming all too common.

"It's a continuation of the budget crisis we've been dealing with for the last four, or five years," said State Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans.

And that means the gubernatorial candidate who wins on Nov. 21 will inherit a money mess after he takes office in January.

Democrat John Bel Edwards and Republican David Vitter advanced to the runoff last week. On Friday, the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee learned from current Gov. Buddy Jindal's administration that there is a $117 million deficit for the fiscal year that ended in June.

In a state that is heavily dependent on oil and gas revenues, the pain keeps flowing.

"There's a couple of big things that caused that. Obviously the price of oil has hurt our budget tremendously and is a big factor in that," said State Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego.

"Low oil prices are only a part of the problem. I think we made some bad decisions, I think we've had some bad decision making in the state of Louisiana, particularly with our administration for the last several years, and I think you see those chickens coming home to roost," Bishop said.

And if the deficit for the 2014-2015 budget year were not enough, bad news is coming for the current budget year that began July 1. The somber picture for this year's budget will come when the state's Revenue Estimating Conference meets in November.

"We're expecting a shortfall for the current fiscal year," Alario said.

That shortfall could be $140 million or much higher, according to Alario.

"Our staff is going through those numbers now," he said. "It's not just the fact of oil severance and oil royalties, it's beginning to reflect both in income tax and sales taxes as companies begin to lay off people, close their businesses. It's showing up in the tax collections and other areas."

And for state lawmakers, it's no longer the question of if there will be a special session in 2016, but when?

"It'll have to be. I'm not sure they can do it as quickly as they're kind of talking about now, practically a governor will get elected Nov. 21st, you've got Thanksgiving holidays, you've got Christmas, and then we're just about taking office and a governor has to assemble his cabinet, has to get all of his people in place," Alario said.

Given current state law, higher education funding and that for state funded healthcare services remain the most vulnerable, in terms of places to slash spending.

"Our universities can't stand to be cut another nickel, we've been cut 70 percent the last several years, more so than any state in the entire country," Bishop said.

Alario believes the Legislature will be ready to make hard choices, along with the incoming governor.

"Politically it will be tough on some people, but I think if they do their job, the people of this state will respect that," he said.

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