If you’re in a hole, stop digging — but the distinguished members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget had very little choice but to approve Gov. Bobby Jindal’s latest plans for midyear budget cuts in state agencies.
Much of the more than $100 million in reductions were made by the governor or executive branch agencies directly, so the Legislature via the JLCB is only notified. On the some $30 million-plus elsewhere, what are members of the budget committee going to say?
The Louisiana Constitution forbids a deficit and it gives the governor wide authority to cut spending to avoid one. The lawmakers’ main change was to balk at looting another $6 million from road repairs for the budget hole, and that hardly matters.
The advance of the arithmetic is not arrested: Because the Jindal administration’s midyear cuts involve more shifting around of cash in various state accounts, the Legislature faces an even bigger challenge later.
In the words of the Legislative Fiscal Office: “Approximately 80 percent of the solution involves MOF swaps replacing SGF that use one-time resources that will likely require another revenue source in FY 16.” Loosely translated, this means that the governor is once again patching one-time money (Means of Financing) into accounts that pay for recurring expenses. Because he’s taking whatever limited revenue increases have occurred to patch the current year budget hole, the budget hole for Fiscal Year 2016 becomes worse.
We’re not paying the bills. Nor does the Legislature or the governor have any proposal yet for how to stop digging this particular hole.
The Legislature meets this spring to pass a budget for the 2016 fiscal year that begins July 1. So it’s not an abstract problem; the light at the end of the fiscal tunnel is an oncoming train.
Before the midyear cuts, the fiscal 2015 budget was a patchwork of one-time money that will be difficult to reproduce for the coming budget year. The shortfall was estimated at about $1.2 billion, an awful lot of money given that only a portion of the overall budget is SGF, or State General Fund; a lot of it is federal funds or college tuition, which legislators have raised in a taxation-through-tuition scheme.
Now, with the “swaps” and other shell games of the midyear cuts, the Jindal shortfall is growing.
In the governor’s case, he brags to The New York Times that he’s cutting fat out of the state budget and boosting the private sector over the public leeches.
We hope that members of the Legislature realize that failing to pay the bills is not fiscal responsibility, and that crumbling intellectual infrastructure in our universities and crumbling physical infrastructure in roads and bridges is not conservative economic policy.
The budget woes just got worse as Louisiana faced a hole and kept on digging.