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?
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.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Fifa under fire for fake turf plans; freed journalist back home; corporate conversions rising and more national and international news for Wednesday, August 27, 2014.
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.
Two months after lawmakers agreed to create a $40 million higher education incentive fund, no decisions have been made about how to divide the money.
With Drew Brees back healthy, the New Orleans Saints are free to work on the little things that can make the difference between a Super Bowl run and something less.
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and her lead GOP challenger Congressman Bill Cassidy are running close when it comes to money. Landrieu has $5.5 million to Cassidy’s $5.6 million in the bank.
With expectations mounting that Gov. Bobby Jindal will soon announce his campaign for president, attention is turning to not only who he will bring along with him but also what will transpire politically back home during the transition.
Seven of the 11 U.S. cities in a new ranking of “most dangerous diets” are in the Bayou and Lone Star states, but the ranking is more about poverty than fried oysters.
Lafayette police are investigating a fatal shooting involving an alleged burglar and homeowner.
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham got the message from the NFL. He's not dunking footballs over goal posts any more.
With qualifying over, the start of campaign season is official, and for the Lafayette Parish School Board, the race toward Nov. 4 will pit 20 candidates in battles for all 9 of the district’s available seats.
An abortion rights organization has filed the first court challenge to a Louisiana law that would require doctors who perform abortions to be able to admit patients to a nearby hospital.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister started his sign-up for re-election Friday the same as any other candidate, filling out paperwork and handing over cash to pay his qualifying fee. But he finished it quite differently, doused with ice.
The recent release of Victor White III’s autopsy report could spell trouble, as it tells a much different story of his death than the one told five months ago by the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“Candidates for Congress and members of Congress spend between 30 and 70 percent of their time raising money to get back to Congress or to get their party back into power.”
Over the last four days of the trial against attorney Daniel Stanford, there’s been one notable absence from Judge Elizabeth Foote’s courtroom: attorney Bill Goode.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees and wide receiver Nick Toon are not on the same page yet, and time is running short for Toon to get it right.