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La. elected officials say Jindal budget leaves service gaps

by Associated Press

BATON ROUGE— Secretary of State Tom Schedler told lawmakers Wednesday he won’t have the money for Louisiana to hold a presidential primary in spring 2016 under the budget proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The state’s chief elections official, Schedler said the governor’s budget recommendations also would force him to shutter his voter outreach division and limit the days museums under his control would be open.

Louisiana’s statewide elected officials laid out to the House Appropriations Committee the implications of Jindal’s $24 billion budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1, which cuts hundreds of millions of dollars to remain balanced.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said he’ll have to eliminate workers to shrink spending. Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said Jindal’s budget would make it difficult for his department to carry out food inspections, fight fires and offer farmer assistance programs.

“I have no funding for elections past the fall elections,” Schedler said.

Jindal proposes a $75 million budget for the secretary of state’s office, down from more than $79 million this year. Lawmakers bristled at the news that the 2014-15 proposal is $3.4 million short of what Schedler would need for Louisiana to have a presidential primary.

“What that amounts to is another item on the list of ‘Legislators, you deal with this,'” said Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.

Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said if the state doesn’t hold a primary election, it won’t attract campaign attention from presidential candidates.

“We basically become a non-factor,” she said.

Schedler told Jackson: “I want to hold a presidential preference primary if you want to pay for it.”

The chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, suggested in a statement that money for the primary was omitted because Jindal — considering a presidential campaign but unpopular in his home state — couldn’t win on a Louisiana ballot.

The Jindal administration said Schedler could pay for the primary with the dollars proposed.

“Obviously we think the primary is important to give Louisiana a voice in the process. We think the Secretary of State should find other ways to balance his budget and fund the primary,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said in a written statement.

In the agriculture department, Strain said he’s trying to work with groups regulated by his agency to determine if they’d be willing to pay new fees for services. Jindal proposes a nearly $6 million cut to the department, dropping agency funding to under $71 million.

But Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said Strain likely will hit resistance because the Jindal administration has repeatedly taken fee money earmarked for specific services and redirected it to pay for the general operating budget. Lawmakers have agreed to the “fund sweeps.”

Convincing farmers to pay higher fees, “that’s going to be a difficult thing to do,” Fannin said.

Treasurer John Kennedy didn’t object to the $2 million cut recommended for his office. “We’ll make it work,” he said.

Kennedy, however, repeated his opposition to some of Jindal’s proposals to raise more state revenue next year. The treasurer said he’s heard the administration is considering selling the state lottery to help fill budget holes.

“The next step’s going to be a reverse mortgage on the Capitol,” Kennedy said.

Meghan Parrish, a spokeswoman for the Division of Administration, said outside firms have pitched the lottery sale idea as a way to drum up money. But she added: “We have never entertained this option and are not considering it this year.”

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