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Louisiana Revenue Projection Rejected Once Again

Dec 13, 2019 06:38PM ● By Staff Writer

By David Jacobs l The Center Square

In a replay of last year’s controversy, a Louisiana Republican leader on Thursday blocked the establishment of a new state revenue forecast, citing an inaccurate estimate.

The move complicates Gov. John Bel Edwards’ ability to craft an executive budget and puts some previously approved projects on hold.

The four-member Revenue Estimating Conference includes leaders of the state House and Senate, the governor’s commissioner of administration and an academic economist. Historically, two staff economists provide revenue projections, and the REC picks one.  

All four REC members must agree to adopt an official forecast. The forecast typically is adopted before the end of the year so the governor can begin preparing an executive budget, which is due in February and historically serves as the basis for that year’s legislative budget debate.

But Republican leaders last year didn't adopt a new forecast until April of this year, just as the 2019 session was starting. Edwards, a Democrat, still proposed a budget in February, but legislators instead established their own budget bill and worked from there during the session.

Rep. Cameron Henry, sitting in for House Speaker Taylor Barras, was the lone vote Thursday against adopting a forecast. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said the move violated the law and the state constitution and was “driven solely by a desire to fight with the governor.”

“We all know that if the election had turned out differently [and a Republican was elected governor] then we wouldn't be having this same discussion,” he said.

But Henry cited a disagreement with State Treasurer John Schroder over the use of unclaimed property funds to argue the forecasts were not currently accurate. State officials usually include unclaimed money in their budget, even though it’s not considered the state’s money, because the rightful owners never try to claim all of it at once.

“We’re not sure if we’re going to receive the money from the treasurer,” Henry said.

Dardenne argued delaying the forecast would needlessly complicate the budget process. But Henry noted that lawmakers were able to settle on a budget during the last session despite the delayed official forecast.

“There was no confusion, any more confusion than normal, on the budget process last year,” Henry said. “It’s always been a difficult process.”

Without a revenue forecast, the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget was unable to move forward with funding a payment for the land-based New Orleans casino, a coastal restoration and storm protection project in Plaquemines Parish, and upgrades of ferries that are currently out of service.

A staff member of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority said delays moving forward on the Plaquemines Parish project could lead to higher bid prices.

“These projects are important but not as important as the overall budget process,” Henry said.

Melinda Deslatte / AP file photo

House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, left, speaks to Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor's chief budget adviser.