Louisiana faces a $211 million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year (which ends June 30). One strategy being floated by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, involves doing nothing. He’s not joking. Budget leaders are seriously considering carrying a deficit and addressing it next fiscal year — AND taking out 20-year loans for a list of unspecified road projects. Bear in mind that state revenue forecasters have predicted a $303 million revenue shortfall for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Fannin’s do-nothing strategy apparently has some support. Viable solutions are being ignored or panned. Last week, the Appropriations Committee passed a pair of bills to cut consulting contracts by 10 percent and reduce government positions by 15,000 over the next three years. The Advocate, the Louisiana Press Association’s “Newspaper of the Year,” dedicated 131 words to House Bills 327 and 328. The Times-Picayune, a Pulitzer Prize winner, didn’t cover them at all.
State Treasurer John Kennedy made a rare appearance before the committee to support the bills, which are authored by Rep. Dee Richard, a Thibodaux independent. Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater opposed the measures, arguing that they would stand in the way of Jindal’s future privatization plans, whatever those might be.
Next year’s budget already abolishes 6,371 state governmental positions, Rainwater said, adding that the goal of 15,000 reductions is based on outdated turnover rates. “The number of full-time employees in state government is already at their lowest levels in 20 years,” he said.
The treasurer countered with numbers from the Legislative Auditor’s Office. He also slammed several contracts, including one for $94,000 to teach students “social skills” through organized play and another for $43,000 that focuses on seatbelt use in the Hispanic communities of Rapides Parish.
Rainwater said you have to dig deeper to plumb the real value of contracts. He said there’s already a system in place for prioritizing and that the 10 percent goal wouldn’t be realized without impacting larger contracts for services like health care. As for smaller ones, Rainwater contends that if every contract under $50,000 were eliminated, it would reduce related costs by only 1 percent.
Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, practically growled at Rainwater during the hearing. He complained that other areas of government spending have had to be reduced in recent years because of budget shortfalls. “Would it not be reasonable that some of these current contracts ought to get the same kind of attention?” Schroder asked.
The Senate stopped similar bills last year, and it may do the same again. Even if Richard’s bills both pass, Jindal will surely veto them.
No doubt the governor, ever with one eye on his national ambitions, would prefer not to have to do that. After all, it would not look good on his resume if he were to veto bills intended to rein in spending.
No, he’d much prefer the House or Senate do his dirty work for him. All that would cost him is 20 years of debt that the rest of us will have to pay.