Capitol News Bureau reporter Elizabeth Crisp held a live chat with online readers Monday on Gov. Bobby Jindal, the recent legislative session and other political topics. Here are some budget-related highlights:
Q: Is the budget really balanced? If not, how do legislators go about fixing it now that the session is closed?
A: The budget is balanced on paper, but I think most agree that it’s not pretty. And the outlook for the following year’s budget (starting July 2016), is already about $1 billion in the hole. The four major candidates for gov have all said they would call a special session, if elected, as soon as taking office to address the structural issues in the budget. I think that’s what we’ll be looking at early next year. NOTE: According to the Division of Administration, the money that will be needed for next year’s budget off-the-bat currently stands at about $560 million. The $1 billion figure is one that has been reported based on estimates and Capitol testimony.
Q: Will state schools have any budget cuts after this session? They dodged em, right?
A: I’m assuming you mean colleges and universities? Funding is basically level for higher ed in the budget.
Q: Overall, would you say Jindal had a good session or a bad one?
A: This session has not been good for Gov. Jindal, no doubt, but at the end of the day, the Legislature didn’t follow through on some threats. He won’t face a veto override, and higher education won’t have the headline-grabbing huge cuts it faced at the start of session. It’s not pretty, but it could have been much, much worse for him. From the national narrative, it probably won’t be as bad, and really...that’s what matters to him at this point.
Q: So if I’m an LSU student, how do the new TOPS changes affect me?
A: Under the proposed TOPS change, if tuition goes up, the Legislature will have to agree to increase the TOPS awards to match. So, over time, it’s possible that TOPS will no longer cover all of tuition, as it does now. So basically the new proposal gives the Legislature a way to cap award amounts during difficult budget years. The award amount will be set at the 2015-16 levels, effective 2016-17 (again, unless the Legislature votes to increase the award amount). Keep in mind, this depends on Gov. Jindal signing the TOPS change, which he hasn’t said for certain whether he will. His office told me over the weekend they are still reviewing.
Q: What kind of effect will filmmakers in Louisiana feel now?
A: Lawmakers voted to cap the film tax credit at $180M a year through 2018. The state averages $200M+ in credits each year, so there is concern. The film industry is pushing for a veto of the legislation out of fears of how it could impact the industry -- including setting off a rush to claim credits already sought, draining the pool. Also: With the sunset provision, which dissolves the cap for 2019, there is concern that it could lead to a huge spike in payouts that year for those who had not been able to claim them under the capped amount.
Q: Was there any tax increase bill that even came close to passing so we can get some revenue for the state or was the legislature too afraid to step on the governors toes?
A: I think the lawmakers understood the situation and knew how diffcult that would be to get past Jindal. It’s also an election year. This budget crisis does have more people calling for a deeper dive into the state’s budget set up. I think it’s really going to take the new gov & legislative turnover in this year’s elections before anyone will seriously push significant changes
Q: I never saw Jindal respond to criticisms that SAVE bill was a farce & wouldn’t actually be tax neutral. Did he ever address those criticisms directly?
A: The governor’s response was basically that this is all politics, and he doesn’t care what legislators say about him on the floor. He gave the impression that no one was saying that to his face. We heard repeatedly people call the SAVE maneuver “clever,” and I think that’s how he sees it.