State expects lower revenues to operate government

The spigot of bad news inside the State Capitol gushes out more disappointment in terms of the dollars available to operate Louisiana government.

On Monday, the Revenue Estimating Conference that includes leaders of the house and senate agreed to lower revenue expectations for the current budget year by nearly $400 million. Oil prices are a huge part of the problem, but revenues are suffering in other areas, as well.

"We're all enjoying paying less for gasoline, but it's affecting our economy," said Sen. President John Alario, R-Westwego.

"We knew the oil prices were coming down, and we knew there was going to be adjustment with the oil," said House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles.

State economists urged the REC to reduce revenue expectations by almost $400 million for the budget year that start July 1. It's money the state thought would flow into its bank account.

"Employment numbers are slowing down, personal income growth slowly, slowing down," said Manfred Dix, chief economist for the Jindal administration.

The budget was based on the price of oil being around $60 a barrel. Monday it was adjusted down to less than $50 by the REC. But it was the fall of revenues elsewhere that surprised some the most.

"The surprise to me was how big the corporate income tax adjustments are going to be. That's half of the problem we saw today," Alario said.

He said the state is paying out more than is coming in, in terms of tax credits.

"It seems to have been a rush on the tax credits and the tax rebates that were coming in, hopefully that begins to level off now," Alario said.

"The state continues to spend more money than it takes in. We just adjusted the budget, which means a mid-year budget cut of $370 million," said State Treasurer John Kennedy.

The big question is whether higher education in Louisiana and state-funded health care services face more cuts.

"I'm hoping higher ed gets spared significantly. I think health care will have some adjustments. I think you'll probably see a hiring freeze," Alario said.

The current year's revenue shortfall is on top of the $117 million deficit for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

"We're about this far away from a credit downgrade. Now we've been able to hold the rating agencies off, I'm somewhat encouraged that we've been able to do that, but really it's going to depend on the actions that are going to be taken by our new governor, and our new legislature," Kennedy said.

Voters will elect the new governor on Saturday.

"I think both of the people who are running are well-qualified and ready to address this problem and jump right in to it, so I think we're anxious to go to work," Alario said.

The Jindal administration is expected to detail its proposals for dealing with deficit this Friday.

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