Minden Press-Herald

Tuesday
Sep 30th

‘Rainy day’ fund use pondered

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Lawmakers are weighing whether to use Louisiana's "rainy day" fund to help fill a $211 million gap in this year's budget.

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley said Thursday that he's willing to look at using the money because he's worried that otherwise public colleges and health care programs would face deep cuts that could damage services.

"I don't know that there are a whole lot of options left at this point in time," said Kleckley, R-Lake Charles.

The state's revenue forecasting panel downgraded income projections this week, as income tax collections remain sluggish and below expectations. The Revenue Estimating Conference dropped this year's forecast by nearly $211 million and next year's forecast by $304 million.

Louisiana is required to have a balanced budget each year.

Only two months remain before the fiscal year ends June 30, so lawmakers have to rebalance this year's spending plan quickly and find a way to close the $211 million deficit. With less time left in the year, the cuts are harder to make because agencies have spent much of the money they expected.

Higher education campuses, the LSU-run public hospitals and the Department of Health and Hospitals are most vulnerable to slashing, because they have fewer pools of dedicated funding than many other agencies.

"I have McNeese State University in Lake Charles, and McNeese has made it very clear to me that there's not a whole lot left to cut. And I've had meetings with Secretary (Bruce) Greenstein at DHH, and he tells me there's not a whole lot there to cut," Kleckley said.

Gov. Bobby Jindal's office signaled the governor would consider using rainy day money, a decision that will have a heavy influence over what can pass.

"We're prepared to make reductions, but we're open to different ideas from legislators that are part of a balanced budget that doesn't raise taxes and protects critical services," Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin said in a statement.

The Budget Stabilization Fund was created in the Louisiana Constitution in 1998 to help with state budget shortfalls. Certain pots of money immediately flow into the rainy day fund, including budget surpluses and state income tied to oil and gas.

The fund currently stands at $647 million. Only one-third of the fund can be withdrawn in a two-year period, and that takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. So, lawmakers could get more than $215 million from the Budget Stabilization Fund, if two-thirds of the House and Senate agree.

The last time lawmakers used the rainy day fund was in 2010, when they withdrew more than $198 million.

 

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