At $25 billion, a big number, the state budget is at the center of the battles at the Legislature. Why, though, are the numbers we see as flashpoints in the budget battles so much smaller?
The governor and legislators are at odds over the sale of prisons, something that was supposed to bring in $86 million. When lawmakers took that and a few other items out of the budget, the Division of Administration called it irresponsible ? strong words directed at the folks who vote on your budget handiwork.
The battles fought over such relatively small sums are indications of not only the weaknesses of the budget structure, but also the tight circumstances of this budget year.
Much of the budget is composed of federal funds, for which federal agencies require something to be done by the state. Those billions are decreased in the budget as hurricane recovery aid has waned. Federal funding of all sorts, including the big Medicaid health-care program for the poor, comes with many strings attached.
Large parts of the state general fund already are dedicated, such as the more than $3 billion that goes for state aid to local schools.
So when Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers talk about a $1.6 billion shortfall, that?s a huge percentage of what realistically can be cut.
And of the funds that can be cut, many of them are for generally approved-of purposes, such as aid to colleges. Cuts don?t start getting any easier.
Given the challenge of fitting money into such a tight budget, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater has to be aware of every battle over small amounts taken from the general fund. It?s as if the commissioner is walking along a mountain path that gets ever narrower the higher he goes up the hillside.
That?s why even small numbers can become the center of major political struggles, particularly in the last weeks of a legislative session focusing on the budget. Every dollar of savings foregone in one part of the budget has to be made up in another.
And the chances of something falling off the edge of the cliff remains, until final adjournment.