While Gov. Bobby Jindal seeks to convince the people of Iowa that he has balanced eight budgets in a row, we’re quite sure that nobody in Louisiana is similarly deluded.
If in technical balance, just about every budget over which Jindal has presided has ended in fiasco, either because revenues fell below estimates, forcing midyear budget cuts, or one-time money and “savings” in the budget did not pan out as expected or other gimmicks employed by the administration collapsed.
The experts call it a “structural deficit,” meaning the state’s means of financing are routinely below what the state wants to spend.
That is the case with Jindal’s final budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, but it’s also true of the budget year that ended June 30. The administration has quietly notified legislative leaders that the fiscal year 2015 budget ended in a deficit.
State Treasurer John N. Kennedy estimates the gap in the budget comes to more than $100 million, although we’re not resting easy on even that large number. When oil prices plummeted last year, the state continued to base its budget on $62 a barrel oil. We’re nowhere close to that on the global market now. Nor is it clear that promised savings in the budget ever materialized.
By law, the state has to reconcile the deficit within this new fiscal year, meaning that the shortfall facing the 2016 Legislature will be substantial: After all, because of the structural deficit, every legislative session starts behind the 8-ball, having to scramble to develop a spending plan that halfway makes sense.
Halfway, by the way, has been plenty good enough for the lawmakers of the past four years, who have generally toed the Jindal line with few deviations. The governor has got the budgets he wanted, so he can’t blame Louisiana’s legislative branch for the problems.
Nor, it appears, have voters blamed most lawmakers. A majority of those in the House and Senate who sought re-election have been returned without opposition.
They’ll return, however, to multiple budget problems. There’s the fiscal 2015 deficit just described, but in the new fiscal year begun July 1 — fiscal 2016 — midyear budget cuts loom because of the problems already apparent in the budget that was just adopted in June.
The big Medicaid program is short of money to operate, apparently a $300 million-plus mistake involving a reckless Jindal administration and an inattentive Legislature. The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students also is short about another $19 million.
Oil prices remain well below the state’s official forecast. And the Public Affairs Research Council has questioned if projected savings in the budget will materialize; this is a sort of “magic asterisk” that Jindal uses to mask his deficit spending in the budget.
All these problems have been apparent for a while, and we imagine it’s on the mind of the four men running for governor; one of them will take office in January. Robert Travis Scott, of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, observed in June the problem waiting on the cleaned-out Jindal desk: “From Day 1, the next governor will be facing another crisis in the budget and will be under the expectation by just about everyone that he will fix the long-term fiscal sustainability problems.”
As taxpayers, we’d like to see budget cuts take some of the load off our structural imbalances, but the reality is that some new revenues — not the short-term remedies adopted by the 2015 Legislature — will be needed to deal with the problem Jindal leaves behind.