Louisiana Budget

LSU economist Jim Richardson, Senate President John Alario and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, from left to right, talk ahead of the meeting of the Revenue Estimating Conference on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, in Baton Rouge. The three conference members wanted to boost the state's income projections, but House Speaker Taylor Barras blocked the changes. 

The Louisiana Board of Regents nominated Wednesday three professors to fill the independent economist spot on the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference.

The four-member board, which includes the governor, the Senate President and Speaker of the House, decides how much money state government has available to spend.

They also will choose which of the three nominees will take the place of LSU economist Jim Richardson, who has held the position since the board was established. He announced in November his intent to retire from the REC.

Two of the Regents' nominees are from Louisiana State University and the third is from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. They are:

  • Stephen R. Barnes, who is director of the LSU Economics & Policy Research Group. He’s worked at LSU since December 2000 and received his doctorate from the University of Texas.
  • Gregory B. Upton Jr., analyzes economic policy issues in the energy industry at the LSU Center for Energy Studies. His Ph.D. is from LSU.
  • Gary A. Wagner analyzes regional economics as well as state and local public finance issues at ULL. His doctorate is from West Virginia University.

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed and Board of Regents Chairman Marty J. Chabert, sought recommendations as well as input from both public and private universities across the state in selecting the final slate.

“We have advanced a strong slate of candidates who have the expertise needed to serve in this important role,” Reed said. “I am grateful to the faculty who expressed an interest in serving and certainly grateful to Dr. Richardson for his long and stellar tenure.”

The REC is at the center of a budget fight because House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and his surrogates have refused to approve an increase in estimated revenues recommended by legislative and administration economists.

Richardson, Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, who sits in for Gov. John Bel Edwards, all agree to the higher number. But all four must agree unanimously.

Barras refuses, saying he’s concerned that the economic recovery may not be sustained and feels it better to wait before agreeing that revenues are coming into the state treasury at higher than expected rates.

The outcome is that two competing annual budget bills have been filed in the session that begins April 8. One that outlines spending on services should the REC recognize the additional money and one that appropriates based on the figure approved last year.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.