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Reynolds talks state budget cuts

by Minden Press-Herald

Mid-year budget cuts are on the horizon as the Louisiana Legislature figures out how to plug holes in a budget with a $117 million deficit.

State Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Minden, says cuts are coming, except to higher education, which includes the vocational schools. He says they plan to use $28 million from the rainy day fund to help plug the holes.

“We’re trying to come up with some ideas about the current budget fall,” Reynolds said. “The thought is trying to use that rainy day money is a good idea rather than cutting higher education.”

Several departments received cuts through cutting costs, not filling vacant positions and cutting operating expenses.

The mid-year deficit elimination plan, published by the joint legislative committee on the budget, projects a $117 million shortfall for the fiscal year 2015 and an estimated $370 million for the fiscal year 2016.

“The plan proposes $487.3 million in potential solutions through targeted reductions in contracts, travel and operating services, as well as strategic program reductions identified in discussions with agencies,” reports the committee.

Overall, the plan includes $149.7 million on strategic operational budget reductions to agencies, $277.7 million of excess fund balances not appropriated in the 2016 budget, $31.7 million of additional revenues (Transocean, FEMA) and $28.2 million from the Budget Stabilization Fund (rainy day fund).

The proposed reductions affect the following departments and the amounts:

  • Executive Department, an estimated $8.4 million,
  • Veterans’ Affairs, an estimated $500,000,
  • Elected Officials, an estimated $5.3 million,
  • LED, an estimated $8.4 million,
  • CRT, an estimated $470,000,
  • DOTD, an estimated $49 million,
  • Public Safety, an estimated $5 million,
  • DHH, an estimated $340 million,
  • DCFS, an estimated $400,000,
  • Natural Resources, an estimated $1.7 million,
  • Revenue, an estimated $27,000,
  • DEQ, an estimated $4.6 million,
  • Workforce Commission, an estimated $1.1 million,
  • Wildlife and Fisheries, an estimated $4.5 million, and
  • DOE and Special Schools, an estimated $1.8 million.

Statewide cuts total $55,854,653, with all these adding up to $487 million in total cuts.

“That’s just to get us to the next budget cycle,” he said. “That will get us to July 1. What the special session is going to do, is we will take a look at the temporary moves to see if it adequately funded this year and also look at short-term and long-term fixes for the budget going forward. Some of these things to change, like if it’s constitutional, we can’t change it until October, because that’s when it comes up on the ballot.”

The idea is to use undesignated balances in excess of appropriations from statutory dedications and other accounts to restore reductions to appropriations from those funds, reported the committee.

“For example, the Audubon Golf Trail Development Fund appropriation to CRT has been reduced by $600 as part of the mid-year solution, but the Fund’s prior balance and excess revenues are sufficient to fully restore the $600 to CRT, so that there is no net reduction or operational impact arising from this adjustment,” the committee writes.

Reynolds says the revenue reduction forecast is due to major factors such as falling oil prices, sales tax and other things.

The committees tasked with trying to come up with a solution are diverse, Reynolds said. The committees are made up of legislators, both Democrat and Republican, business owners and experts.

Legislative Affairs Director Ashlee McNeely says the mid-year deficit elimination plan will be proposed to the Joint Legislative Committee Friday, Dec. 11. A special session will be convened in February.

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