Where do the candidates for governor stand on fixing the state budget?

Where do the candidates for governor stand on fixing the state budget?
Published: Nov. 12, 2015 at 10:51 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 12, 2015 at 11:57 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - The two men who want to be governor will not have much breathing room after taking office, because "crisis" is the applicable word in terms of state government's budget.

There is a more than $100 million deficit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, and a huge shortfall is anticipated for fiscal year 2015-2016 which began July 1.

"They closed the books on the last fiscal year with at least $117 million deficit, and this new fiscal year which was supposed to be balanced is already probably $350 million in a hole," said Republican candidate Sen. David Vitter.

"We do have a structural budget deficit. We have tremendous a tremendous challenge," said Democrat State Rep. John Bel Edwards.

In interviews with FOX 8 News, both said they would cut spending and insist on greater efficiencies. Vitter is firm on wanting to un-dedicate funding in most areas of the budget, something that has been seen as problematic for years.

Currently, health care services and higher education are most endangered in terms of cuts.

"The biggest reason that has happened in the past is that so many other parts of the budget are dedicated or off-limits, and we can't get into spending there, and make economies there," Vitter said. "I'm going to change that with an early special session by un-dedicating many of those other parts of the budget."

Edwards would look at that as well, but his campaign said he does not see un-dedicating funds as the solution to all of the budgetary issues.

"We're going to expand in terms of the flexibility we have in budgeting to allocate cuts across a broader spectrum of the budget," Edwards said.

We turned to Steven Procopio of the Public Affairs Research Council, which researches state government issues. As policy director at PAR, he said while dedicated funds can box state legislatures in, un-dedicating funds can be challenging.

"It's not the panacea that everyone is hoping it's going to be," Procopio said.

Some areas of the budget dollars are protected by the State Constitution, while others are protected by state laws passed by the Legislature.

"You have constitutional funds, obviously are the hardest, it will require a constitutional amendment to change it, and even if you could change the constitution, really your hardest funds there are the MFP that funds local schools, your Transportation Trust funds that helps highways and bridges and coastal funding which are things that even if you could un-dedicate, probably they wouldn't want to cut." Procopio said.

He said trying to un-dedicate dollars that state lawmakers earmark for a particular use will likely face pushback, as well.

"The legislature created the dedication, and they can un-create the dedication, so that's probably where a lot more focus is going to be," Procopio said. "However, a lot of these are fee-based, so you'll have some industry to come together to say we're willing to pay a fee, or an assessment, but those dollars should go to this very specific purpose. And if you try to un-dedicate that and then use it for healthcare and higher ed, then you're going to have those industries arguing, and I think correctly that you're turning a fee into a tax and that would be unconstitutional," Procopio said.

And even though the legislature scaled back some, both candidates will examine state tax credits and exemptions.

"We're going to look at tax expenditures that are costing too much, the tax giveaways that don't produce enough return on investment," said Edwards.

Vitter suspects state lawmakers will be ready to make tough decisions.

"The good things about crises is they present big opportunities, and we're in a crisis in Louisiana, and folks are going to come together because of that crisis," he said.

Next week the State Revenue Estimating Conference meets to get the latest forecast. Oil prices continue to be a problem as they are lower than expected.

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