Advocate file photo -- The Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge.

Louisiana’s legislative auditor said Wednesday that he doesn’t know whether a $178.5 million surplus reported by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is real.

“This is a different way of looking at what is surplus,” auditor Daryl Purpera said. “The bottom line is, at this point, until we have audited it I can’t tell you if it’s a good number or bad number or what,” he said.

Purpera said Jindal’s finance people have begun sharing data with his office so an analysis and verification process can be done.

The administration announced last week that it would report a $178.5 million budget surplus through the fiscal year ending June 30. The next day it confirmed that the so-called state general fund balance was calculated using $319 million in newly identified excess cash left over from prior budget years.

The legislative auditor must certify the state general fund balance.

“This is not the way they have calculated it before,” Purpera said. He said it marks a sudden departure from the method used since 1997.

John Carpenter, the legislative fiscal officer, said in a prepared statement: “We will get more details as we begin a more formal review, but it does appear that there was a balance carried over from prior years that should be included in this year’s report.”

Administration officials are scheduled to go before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on Friday to discuss the surplus.

As of Wednesday, the Jindal administration could not provide a breakdown of the major sources from which the prior years’ leftover cash came.

Division of Administration communications director Meghan Parrish said in general the funds came from unused self-generated revenues and interagency transfers — funds moved from one state agency to another to fund programs. On specific sources, “it’s not clear exactly but we are confident it is there,” she said.

“It’s in our accounting system,” Parrish said.

Meanwhile, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and state Treasurer John Kennedy continued a war of words that began when Kennedy challenged the surplus’s existence. Kennedy said the state actually had a $141 million deficit if the money found by the administration had not surfaced and the normal methodology in determining the state general fund balance had been used.

Nichols blamed Kennedy for failure to report the leftover cash from year to year going back to 2002. “It’s disappointing the treasurer never reported these balances to the public,” Nichols said in a news release.

Kennedy said constitutionally he is responsible for the custody, investment and disbursement of state funds. He said three times a year, the treasury sends a comprehensive report to the administration about all dollars in the state general fund.

“As Treasurer, I am not responsible for ensuring that the administration is truthful with legislators and the public about the amount of money that can be appropriated from the state general fund,” Kennedy responded in a news release. “It is the administration’s responsibility to take our reports and tell legislators and the Revenue Estimating Conference about any and all available money instead of creating a secret slush fund.”

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