Dropping oil prices continue to impact state budget _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Aerial of the State Capitol building and grounds.

Louisiana lawmakers hoping for good news from the panel that determines how much money the state can spend were likely disappointed in the Revenue Estimating Conference’s latest update on Thursday.

The state is still heading toward about a $600 million shortfall in the budget that begins July 1. After hearing from economists, the Revenue Estimating Conference decided not to change the forecast for the coming year.

The latest fiscal update came just hours before the state House is scheduled to take up the budget proposal for the coming year. The state is required to have a balanced budget, and legislators can’t raise taxes during the regular session, under state law.

Check back with The Advocate for updates (House convenes at 11 a.m.).

Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he plans to call a special session in June to give legislators a chance to raise revenue and bring in more money to stave off deep cuts to state services. The Legislature already raised the state sales tax earlier this year in an earlier special session.

Some legislators have said they wanted to see the latest revenue estimate before agreeing to increase taxes again. They have urged Edwards to wait until the fall to hold a special session.

But the state’s economists didn’t have much good news on Thursday.

Greg Albrecht, the Legislature’s chief economist, said that tax hikes from the special session likely won’t be seen until June and it could be “well into the next fiscal year” before it’s clear how much money the state’s bringing in.

“The economic activity in this state is relatively weak,” economist Manfred Dix told the revenue estimating panel.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .