That's a threat to Louisiana's newfound wealth, which is bolstered largely by oil prices that topped $70 last year. Albrecht says the state is following the situation closely. "It's all speculation, but we all do it, and that's how oil prices work. It's cyclical," he says. "We have accounted for prices being below $50 for the second half of the fiscal year [Jan. 1. through June 31]. When we made that forecast back in December, everyone thought we were being too conservative. Some people thought I was being goofy."
The state currently has $1.3 billion in the bank, a staggering figure. "We've never seen that much in there," says Deputy Treasurer Jason Redmond. But it's only because the Legislature opted out of cashing in during a December special session, when there weren't enough votes to lift a constitutional spending cap. When lawmakers return for a regular session in April, the money will be back up for grabs, especially with elections looming ' as long as crude oil prices don't rain on the parade.
If prices drop below the $50 mark, Albrecht says the state's financial forecast will have to be re-drafted by the Revenue Estimating Conference in May. And for every $1 of annualized barrel price the state has to deduct from its forecast, it will lose upward to $13 million, he says. That means lawmakers may have to be more conservative than usual in how they spend the state's money this spring. In Louisiana, where oil is king, anything in the $30 or $40 range would be significant. "At this point, I don't feel it's unreasonable. I wouldn't say it's completely crazy with the way oil prices work," says Albrecht, adding his five-year forecast has oil prices sticking in the $40 area through most of 2010.
Crude oil prices fell below $50 a barrel during the second week of January, its lowest level since May 2005. The drop followed news of a significant rise in crude stockpiles.
The dip was limited, however, by cold weather in the northern United States, a continuing factor that could play out several different ways. International politics intercede as well ' if China and India enter a recession or anything close to it, demand would be reduced along with crude oil prices.
The weather, in concert with the aftereffects of the 2005 hurricane season, has placed power in the hands of buyers. In response, sellers are lobbying the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to cut production in an effort to pick up prices, but the group's major producers aren't budging.
Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, believes some economists may be crying wolf. Consumers are enjoying lower prices at the pump, at least for now, and few expected oil prices would exceed the $77-per-barrel peak enjoyed in July. Natural gas prices are still holding strong, he adds, and it's too early to fear an impact on exploration or tax revenues. "It's just not a real concern, yet," Briggs says. "If we get down to $40, that would be horrible, but we'll handle it. We're an industry that responds to oil prices. And I don't think OPEC would let it get any lower than that."
Dan S. BornÃ©, president of the Louisiana Chemical Association, says his membership only uses an insignificant amount of oil in their operations and devotes more attention to natural gas prices. Additionally, refineries are expected to lift their operations to the highest level in two years during 2007. "From the chemical point of view, lower energy prices always equate to lower raw material costs," he says. "So as a general observation, this could be favorable for us as long as it doesn't impact natural gas prices."
Despite the positive spin, Albrecht and others warn that $30 or $40 crude oil prices could very well be on the way. But for now, it's all a waiting game as the prices unfold in real time over the Internet and airwaves. "We'll be tracking this monthly from the state's point of view," Albrecht says, "but I'm watching it daily from my office. It drives me crazy sometimes."
Even if Albrecht catches a potential falling wave of prices and revises his official state forecast, one question remains: Will lawmakers heed warnings for a more conservative approach?
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Oscar de la Renta dies; Pistorius sentenced; World Series begins and more national and international news for Tuesday, October 21, 2014.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.
Louisiana's health department says it will seek law changes to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests.
It wasn’t the historic slashes to higher ed funding or the ensuing tuition spikes that recently had LSU’s student body and faculty riled up in collective outrage.
Will $400 be enough for the re-election campaign of LPSB's Hunter Beasley to overcome two years of holding our school system hostage and hurting the education of our children all because of a personal dislike of the superintendent?
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he expects his playing status in Detroit to be decided by coach Sean Payton on Sunday, shortly before the game.
Lawmakers have sidestepped a decision on whether they accept claims from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration that the state closed last year's books with a nearly $179 million surplus.
Coming off the high of a fourth quarter comeback against Tampa Bay and a helpful bye week, linebacker Junior Galette sees a real turnaround coming for New Orleans' struggling defense.
Former President Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party's most popular surrogate this fall, is heading to Louisiana early next week for a campaign rally with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Time and again you hear people say DA Mike Harson is unbeatable because he's doled out political favors over the past 20 years. But a new lawsuit could end that speculation.
After the season's signature win (so far), here are some helpful tips for Cajun Nation during the conference stretch.
Did the state close last year's books with a surplus or a deficit?
Practicing without limitations on Wednesday, running back Mark Ingram looked ready to return to a New Orleans offense that once again ranks among the NFL's best when the Saints play at Detroit on Sunday.
It’s been decided: Superintendents of Louisiana’s public school system will retain the controversial powers granted by Act 1 of the 2012 session.
Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy has a bone to pick with the Jindal administration, which recently — surprise! — announced that the state ended the most recent budget year with a $178.5 million dollar surplus.
The messaging battle, however, isn't tied to individual campaign accounts. Third-party groups have poured millions of dollars into advertising.