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?
The Louisiana health department will follow a federal judge's order and refrain from immediately penalizing doctors who are trying to comply with a new abortion law that requires them to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, a spokeswoman said Monday.
While bogged down with qualifying candidates last month, Secretary of State Tom Schedler didn’t lose sight of the true endgame coming in November and December.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Stoned driving a concern when pot is legal; Detroit's bankruptcy trial; speed trap scandal in Florida and more national and international news for Tuesday, September 02, 2014.
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.
Republican presidential prospects Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are planning to speak at an Iowa Christian conservative event in September.
The attention surrounding Victor White III has spiked with the release of last week’s autopsy report, which has raised a number of serious questions about the night of his death and has put the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under an increased wave of scrutiny as more national media outlets are jumping on the story, most recently seen on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
A group supporting taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers is appealing a federal judge's order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state's voucher program.
The Discovery Channel has canceled reality TV star Will Hayden's popular "Sons of Guns" show after his arrest on an aggravated rape charge.
The LPSB will finally hear from the attorney it hired to investigate the superintendent at a special meeting Thursday at 4 p.m.
Authorities are investigating a report that a student there warned the principal of impending violence similar to that depicted in the movie "The Purge."
Saints cornerback Champ Bailey has played for more than a handful of playoff teams during a career that has seen him selected to 12 Pro Bowls.
Police say a 56-year-old Lafayette man walking behind a dump truck died when the truck hit him as it was backing up.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is a proud papa of new baby girl.
The books on Louisiana's last budget year have been closed, but it took a bit of borrowing from this year to make the numbers work.
The Iberia Parish Coroner responded Monday to the attention surrounding the questionable shooting of Victor White III, a black man from New Iberia who died April 2 while in the custody of local law enforcement.