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Lawmakers wait to hear from auditors on surplus

by Minden Press-Herald

BATON ROUGE — Louisiana lawmakers sidestepped a decision Friday on whether to accept claims from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration that the state closed last year’s books with a nearly $179 million surplus, a figure viewed with skepticism.The Legislature’s joint budget committee instead decided to wait until their auditors comb through the numbers. The Legislative Auditor’s Office doesn’t expect to have its review completed until the end of December.

District 36 state Sen. Robert Adley said these are numbers that are not used in the revenue estimating conference for the current year or the one to follow.

“I think he (Jindal) is correct in his numbers, but it’s no different from where we normally are,” Adley said. “It does make a difference, but my concerns are, if you use those funds from this year and you don’t get to roll them into next year, then you have to decrease your revenue estimate for the next year.”

Adley said he believes the “found” funds are never used in revenue estimates.

“That makes no sense,” he said. “What they (Jindal administration) are doing is beginning to use it in the revenue estimates. We should be recognizing the funds, for whatever you’ve got.”

Barry Dusse, director of the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, presented the surplus figure to the committee. Though Jindal’s chief budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, attended the meeting and offered a full presentation, lawmakers didn’t want it and spent fewer than five minutes on the entire discussion.

The Jindal administration says it identified millions that hadn’t been calculated over several years.

But the Legislature’s financial advisers have been reticent to immediately agree to the numbers submitted by the administration, questioning whether all the dollars exist and whether the money is available for spending even if it sits in state bank accounts.

Adley said generally, the funds “pop up” during the budget year.

“We will have some extra money that will be applied toward the deficit,” he said. “They (funds) have just never been inside the revenue estimating conference. I was frankly, very surprised by that.”

Treasurer John Kennedy says the calculation method used by the Jindal administration strays from Louisiana’s traditional accounting practices, which would show the state with a nearly $141 million deficit from the budget year that ended June 30.

The difference between the two figures is more than $300 million.

Deciding which figure is more appropriate will determine if the state must cut services and spending to close a budget gap from last year or if the state has money to help deal with a looming budget shortfall next year.

The findings of the auditor’s office review are expected to be presented to lawmakers in January, leaving the question of a surplus versus a deficit lingering for several months.

District 10 state Rep. Gene Reynolds said he hopes the surplus rumor is true.

“Nobody believes that,” he said. “When session ended, we were very concerned that we were going to find something in the neighborhood of $120 million just to balance what we have because we were looking at that kind of deficit.”

Reynolds chalks up the “surplus” to numbers juggling.

“If it is true, it’s been forecast that we will have a $1.2 billion deficit next year,” he said. “We can put it on that.

The Jindal administration hasn’t released a specific list of where it located the extra money to reach its surplus figure, but said 127 agencies have dollars from fees and other self-generated sources of cash that haven’t been spent or calculated for years.

Kennedy says he’s concerned the administration has manufactured a surplus to help deal with the state’s ongoing budget problems.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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