Watchdog group blasts Jindal "raid" on coastal fund

Watchdog group blasts Jindal "raid" on coastal fund

Governor bobby Jindal's plans for addressing Louisiana'a mid-year budget deficit include dipping into the state's coastal protection and restoration fund.

The public affairs research group, a baton rouge-based independent watchdog group, calls the plan a $6.5 million "raid" and argues the Jindal administration should reconsider the move.

In a commentary released Thursday night, par said the move, "would sweep scarce and specially designated dollars for coastal protection and restoration into the general operating budget."

Par also criticized administration plans to push some of the state's medicaid healthcare payments due this year into the next fiscal year, "basically paying the state's bills late."

Earlier this week, the Louisiana revenue estimating conference reduced its revenue forecast for this fiscal year by $370 million.

Siphoning money from the (coastal) fund at this early juncture sends a clear message that Louisiana does not have the fiscal discipline required to get the job done," par staffers wrote.

"Such a move sets the precedent that it is acceptable for coastal funds to serve as a piggy bank the state can tap whenever regular revenue drops."

While the state constitution shields the fund from cuts under most circumstances, an exception can be made when the state faces mid-year cuts.

The  $6.5 million dollar figure amounts to roughly 4% of the $169.1 million in the coastal fund, but critics fear it sends the wrong message about Louisiana's commitment to coastal protection.

"And if Louisiana does not take coastal restoration seriously, why should people in Washington, who ultimately can make or break the state's long-range coastal plan?"

On Wednesday, Jindal vowed to balance the state budget without leaving his successor to battle a deficit for the current fiscal year.

The administration's plan to balance the budget relies on $149.7 million in cuts to agencies, $277.7 million from various dedicated funds, $31.7 million in additional revenues and a draw down of the state's so-called "rainy day fund."

Jindal's effort to pull $28.2 million from the fund requires a two-thirds vote by state lawmakers through the mail.

Par said the legislature "should strongly consider using at least $6.5 million more from the rainy day fund to prevent the coastal fund sweep.