The State Bond Commission signed off Thursday on a refinancing of Louisiana’s tobacco settlement bonds that will take advantage of low interest rates and generate more than $60 million to plug into next year’s budget.
The dollars were included in the 2013-14 budget under negotiation by lawmakers to help pay for the state’s free college tuition program called TOPS, so passage was needed to keep the $25 billion spending plan in balance.
The only opposition on the Bond Commission came from its chairman, Treasurer John Kennedy. “I think we’re doing the right thing here, but I believe we’re picking the wrong structure,” he said.
Kennedy said Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration pushed for a refinancing that generates all the savings upfront to plug budget holes. He said the state could save more by stretching out the savings over many years.
The state will save an estimated $144 million over three years.
Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols has disagreed that another refinancing structure could offer significantly more savings.
State Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Shreveport, said it was too risky to spread out the savings because tobacco use is declining nationwide as taxes are increased and new restrictions are added. “We need to take the upfront savings, rather than over the life of it,” he said.