By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget proposal for next year violates the Louisiana Constitution, Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry said in a legal opinion issued Friday that marks his latest dust-up with the Democratic governor.
A legal opinion doesn’t carry the force of law. But it could be used as the foundation for a lawsuit if House Republican leader Lance Harris, who requested the opinion, or another GOP lawmaker decided to challenge the governor in court.
Landry is wading into an ongoing feud.
Across four months of meetings, Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras or his surrogate has blocked income forecast changes recommended by nonpartisan economists and sought by the governor. The last financial forecast was adopted in June, without the improved expectations of economists and without billions that agencies expect to receive from revenue sources.
Rather than use what the administration called unrealistic and outdated numbers, Edwards gave lawmakers a budget proposal in February that assumes the money will eventually be recognized during the legislative session that starts April 8. His spending recommendations include new dollars for a teacher pay raise, along with other education and health care increases.
Landry’s office said the constitution requires the governor to recommend a budget in line with the forecast.
“The constitution requires that the governor submit a budget containing revenues ‘which shall not exceed the official forecast of the Revenue Estimating Conference.’ The governor clearly violated this provision,” the opinion released by the attorney general says.
The Edwards administration claims the House Republicans are in violation of a law requiring the state income forecasting panel to revise its projections by January and says it couldn’t meet the legal requirements on the budget filing because the forecasting law wasn’t followed.
“The attorney general’s entitled to his opinion. We just think he happens to be wrong in this instance,” Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget adviser, said Friday.
Because legislators start crafting next year’s budget when the session begins, Dardenne said he doesn’t anticipate a lawsuit.
“There would be no purpose in doing that, because there would be no end game that could be satisfied,” he said. “This whole legal issue is moot, really.”
The Revenue Estimating Conference is expected to meet within the first week of session to debate whether Barras has changed his mind and will allow the increase so the House can spend the money in its budget proposal.
Economists recommended the forecast boosts, saying they were conservative adjustments based on tax collections and economic modeling. Dardenne, Republican Senate President John Alario and the independent economist on the forecasting panel backed the changes. But Barras said Louisiana’s economy was too unstable and the adjustments were too soon.
The Edwards administration accused Barras of trying to manipulate the financial projections to keep the governor from proposing the budget he wanted with teacher pay raises included.