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State has budget surplus

by Associated Press

Treasurer: $300 million in the black

Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana will have a surplus topping $300 million from the last budget year when the final numbers are settled next month, the state’s treasurer said Friday.

Treasurer John Schroder said the state recently closed the books on the 2017-18 budget year that ended June 30 with a cash balance exceeding $400 million, although the figure has to be audited and double-checked.

“We have a lot of cash in the bank,” the Republican elected official said. “We’re going to have a surplus in excess of $300 million. We still have some work to do to absolutely firm that number up.”

Schroder said his office couldn’t yet pinpoint why the state has the hefty surplus, whether tied to better-than-expected tax collections or some other explanations.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ spokesman Richard Carbo confirmed Louisiana has a surplus, but he said the exact amount won’t be determined until mid-October.

“It is premature for the treasurer to be discussing any figure, but we will release more information at a later date,” Carbo said in a statement.

Carbo suggested the surplus was “another sign that Louisiana is headed in the right direction” financially. But conservative Republicans said it indicates the Democratic governor exaggerated the need for taxes to plug budget gaps.

“His unreasonable demands resulted in excess taxation,” Rep. Nancy Landry, a Lafayette Republican, posted on Twitter.

Earlier this year, lawmakers urged by Edwards passed nearly $500 million in taxes for this year’s budget. Edwards said state services would face deep, damaging cuts without the taxes. The largest amount of money came from renewal of 0.45 percent of an expiring 1 percent state sales tax. That sales tax was enacted for seven years, until mid-2025.

The taxes backed by a majority of the Republican-led Legislature raised dollars for the budget year that started July 1. Any surplus money from last year couldn’t have been rolled over to plug those gaps.

Under Louisiana’s constitution, surplus dollars can only be spent on certain one-time expenses, like debt payments, construction work and coastal projects, not ongoing agency expenses and continuing programs. At least 10 percent of any surplus is supposed to pay down retirement debt, and a quarter of a surplus is earmarked for the state’s “rainy day” fund.

Schroder said he’s happy the state has a surplus, but worried the governor and lawmakers won’t spend it in ways to improve Louisiana’s financial position. He suggested the dollars should go to the rainy day fund, which once had a balance exceeding $850 million but now contains around $322 million, and to lessen retirement liabilities.

“I have absolutely no confidence on how this money is going to be spent,” the treasurer said. “I know some of this money is going to be spent on pet projects and things that aren’t priorities to this state. That’s what bothers me.”

Louisiana had a $123 million surplus from the 2016-17 budget year. After the money required to pay down retirement debt and sent to the rainy day fund, Edwards and lawmakers spent the remaining $80 million on road and bridge work, college building repairs, community water system improvements and local construction projects.

Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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