PAR: Legislators earn budget credit, blame

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana has a new commentary out: “The Budget is a Real Piece of Work.”

The commentary comes as the Legislature’s end approaches and efforts are ongoing to balance a state budget that started out $1.6 billion out of whack.

“As the Legislature attempt to piece together something resembling a balanced budget, the puzzle that is taking shape is likely to create new problems for state government and require further adjustments during the next year,” PAR wrote.

“Lawmakers can be given credit for facing up to some tough decisions this session. But they and the governor contributed to the circumstances over time that led to this crisis situation.”

PAR also warns that the state may face “a large disparity between the budget passed this session and the real accounting of revenue and spending that takes place over the next fiscal year.”

The estimates of savings from various tax bills may be unreliable because “there are so many unknowns” that the Legislative Fiscal Office says it cannot be confident in its projections, PAR said.

PAR wrote that legislators have “awakened to the expensive and unlimited tax credit programs that have grown sharply in recent years” and that’s a good thing.

Senate panels adds judicial system funds

Senators are backing a $3.5 million increase next year to the budget that finances the Louisiana Supreme Court and other parts of the state judiciary.

Though lawmakers have been struggling to fill financial gaps, the Senate Finance Committee disagreed with the House decision to provide a standstill $176 million judicial budget.

The committee Friday added the increase for the fiscal year that begins July 1 — half of the spending hike sought by the Supreme Court justices.

Senators then approved the judicial budget without objection, along with a $98.4 million budget to finance the House, Senate and other legislative agencies next year. The legislative budget would stay the same as this year.

The bills move to the full Senate for consideration.

Plan to shift Jindal’s security costs scrapped

Louisiana senators have rejected a plan approved by House lawmakers that would have Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office pay his security detail costs for his extensive out-of-state travel, rather than the State Police.

The House proposed transferring $2.5 million from Jindal’s office next year to the State Police to cover the price tag of state troopers traveling with the Republican governor. The Senate Finance Committee, however, stripped that plan from the budget proposal Thursday.

Jindal has steadily increased his national travel as he readies for a likely 2016 presidential campaign he’s expected to announce June 24. And the head of the State Police acknowledged in a recent budget hearing that his agency’s travel expenses have been going up for Jindal’s protective detail, even amid ongoing state budget shortfalls.

The travel costs are higher than for Jindal’s two predecessors.

State Police spent $2.2 million in hotel, meal and other expenses for the governor’s state trooper security detail this year, for both in-state and out-of-state trips, lawmakers were told in a recent budget hearing.

The Finance Committee didn’t talk about undoing the House plan to make Jindal’s office cover those types of costs before voting on the reversal as part of 39 pages of budget amendments adopted as a package.