BATON ROUGE — The head of a nonpartisan legislative office that digs into the spending of state and local government agencies warned state lawmakers Tuesday that he’s teetering on the financial edge.
Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said he’s eating into his agency’s reserves even as he continues to shrink staff, and lawmakers diverted $2 million from those reserves last month to help plug a state deficit.
Purpera’s message to the Legislative Audit Advisory Council was direct: Cuts are threatening those that find waste and fraud that can help balance the budget as the state is pinching pennies.
“Ultimately, if we don’t find some funding mechanism, I can get through another year and we’re going to be in real bad shape for the office,” Purpera told the council.
Lawmakers on the council were sympathetic and said they support the mission of the agency, though they didn’t commit to any specific assistance.
“I want to be efficient on everything, but when I see us cutting good government and watchdogs, it always brings up a red flag to me,” said Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.
Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, said: “I think the public gets a real bang for their buck by the work that you and your staff do.”
Purpera’s office took a cut along with all legislative offices this budget year, and he took another hit when lawmakers took $2 million from an account the auditor says he uses to help cover office operations. He’s asking lawmakers to add more than $1 million in additional state general fund money to his budget in the upcoming 2017-18 financial year.
The legislative auditor’s budget would remain flat at its current funding of nearly $34 million, according to Purpera’s figures, but he’d be able to decrease the raid on reserves.
That’s not an easy ask in a budget year when the state has continued gaps and lawmakers will be haggling with Gov. John Bel Edwards over whether or not to raise taxes. The Legislature will consider Purpera’s proposal in the upcoming legislative session that begins in April.
With a standstill budget, Purpera said he’d still cut 23 jobs from his office, dropping the workforce by 8 percent to 265 people. He had more than 300 employees four years ago, but Purpera said retirement and health care costs keep growing.
“I’m trying to hold the line on expenditures, but to do that I have to keep decreasing the size of the office,” he said.
The auditor’s office reserves have fallen from $7 million at the start of this fiscal year to $3 million. Purpera’s proposing to use half the $3 million fund balance in next year’s budget even with the additional $1 million he’s seeking from lawmakers.