BATON ROUGE — Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser says will be forced to cut several areas under his responsibility next year – including cultural events, state parks and museums – because of Louisiana’s revenue shortfall.
Nungesser told the Manship School News Service following his testimony to the Senate Finance Committee Monday that some fiscal corners he has had to cut have broken his heart, warning future reductions would negatively impact art, parks and tourism across the state.
Nungesser’s office includes the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in House Bill 1, which holds the state’s $29 billion spending plan for the looming fiscal year starting July 1.
Under HB1, the funding instrument, the department will see a $3.3 million decrease in state general funds in its budget to $87.8 million from this year’s $91 million. The department also expects a $2 million decrease in self-generated revenue.
Nungesser’s senior advisor, Buddy Boe, called that $5 million loss a “double whammy.”
Less money means less funding for major cultural events, Nungesser told the committee. “Everybody took a cut.”
He offered as examples the department’s current contribution to the Essence Festival in New Orleans is about half of what it was last year — a difference from $950,000
to $500,000. Other events, such as the Bayou Classic went from $250,000 to $200,000, and Special Olympics $100,000 to $35,000).
“[Cutting Special Olympics] broke my heart,” Nungesser said. “That’s all [these kids] do every year.”
But events are not at the apex of the Nungesser’s worries. He told the committee that the current budget, without compensating funds, could be “devastating” to state parks, noting about $54 million has been taken out of Louisiana’s state park system in the past eight years.
Nungesser said, under current conditions, starting in July museums could close and libraries could be eliminated. “When we were hit with this budget, we began yelling and screaming about what it could do.”
But Nungesser also said he is looking for new sources of revenue, such as renting out horseback riding and canoe services across the state. He also is interested in zip lines, which he said generate $500,000 annually for Alabama’s state revenues.
Nungesser also was optimistic about WrestleMania, a five-day, national event coming to New Orleans in 2018, and is second only to the Super Bowl in generating revenues.