In an election season in which so many proclaimed themselves constitutional conservatives, Gov. Bobby Jindal appears to have missed probably the most important mandate of the Louisiana Constitution: balance the budget.
The happy-talk of administration officials to the contrary, the state of Louisiana ran a deficit in fiscal 2014, which ended June 30. Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols has implausibly suggested that there are millions in unobligated funds that could erase that budget gap.
Even if some unobligated money is magically “found” in state accounts somewhere, and it would have to have been very well-hidden, the reality is that the state under Jindal is a fiscal mess.
State Treasurer John N. Kennedy is in charge of all those funds, and the political reality — Kennedy is nothing if not ambitious — is that he would have been the first to ride to the rescue by discovering available cash that had escaped the administration’s notice. He would have been a hero.
Instead, knowing that the administration’s claims are bogus, he is the target of withering criticism from Jindal officials.
The pelican should not be the emblem on the treasurer’s door. It should be the scapegoat.
Spending more than you take in, the scapegoat-in-chief says, is a recipe for disasters. “Midyear budget cuts are not at all unrealistic at this point,” Kennedy said this week.
The fiscal year 2015 began July 1. Through the first third of the state budget year — July through October — $925 million has been borrowed from Treasury funds to pay bills. Last year at this point, the number stood at $656.7 million and the year ended with a $141 million deficit, comparing revenues to expenditures.
Nichols said there would be a balanced budget at fiscal year end. “Revenues fluctuate throughout the year and come in at different points. It is a $26 billion budget,” Nichols said in a statement.
The state’s revenues do come in at different times of the year, so fluctuation is not uncommon. Lower oil prices is hurting state revenues, so those estimates of income are off.
But even if all that is true, and even if more money is found in Treasury accounts somewhere, the big number that belies the conservative label of the administration and the Legislature is $985 million.
That is the one-time money from various sources that is being used, with the cheerful acquiescence of feckless state legislators, to fund operating expenses in this fiscal year — operating expenses that realistically will recur. Sound financial practice is not to use that one-time money for recurring expenses.
Jindal is not the first governor to fund recurring expenditures with one-time money. Yet, the abuse of the budget process is at a new low. Jindal opposes new revenues to allow the state to pay its bills. The credibility gap of the administration is yet another deficit going into the 2016 session of the Legislature.
And all this is on top of the governor’s chronic absenteeism while he runs for president. His successor will have a substantial mess to clean up. And we do not doubt that the successor will campaign as a conservative.
We hope voters will demand to know what exactly that means. If it means continuing to fail to pay the bills, the state is in for more years of budget crises that hurt state institutions, erode crumbling infrastructure and reduce the quality of life for our citizens.