Six weeks into the new state budget, and many are worriedly asking, “Is the new budget okay?”
“That’s a big unknown,” Legislative Fiscal Analyst Greg Albrecht told the Revenue Estimating Conference Friday. “We’re going to have a high degree of uncertainty, I think, in this overall package.”
REC members asked Albrecht when he would be able to verify whether lawmakers had raised enough revenue and cut enough programs to sufficiently fund state government operations.
“We’re not going to be able to observe any kind of information or be informed about it until we get to certain points in the fiscal year,” Albrecht said. “And I think the earliest one is probably November.”
Senate President John Alario is particularly concerned about oil prices.
“Would that also be the appropriate time – if oil prices stay where they are – to be looking seriously at that, or should we be looking at it at an earlier time than November?” Alario asked.
“Anytime the REC wants to address oil prices -- the earlier the better,” Albrecht responded.
Louisiana’s budget projections include an annual average oil price of $61.70 per barrel. Currently oil is trading in the low $40s. The REC may meet again as soon as late september to adjust the predictions.
The Joint Budget Committee got some sobering news Friday, as well. Some bills passed in the frenetic end of the legislative session negated each other, leaving a $4.6 million dollar hole in the new budget.
Senate Finance chairman Jack Donahue urged the committee to bite the bullet.
“I’d like to make the motion that we go ahead and advise the administration to go ahead and make the cuts now, so we don’t have to deal with them later,” Donahue said with a sigh.
Eighty-three percent of those cuts -- $3.8 million -- will fall on higher education. Rep. Pat Smith quizzed State Budget Director Barry Dusse about that.
“Have they had any discussion with you, or anybody, on how Regents are going to accommodate for that?” Smith inquired.
“We have not informed the agencies yet,” Dusse replied
“Oh, they don’t know? Oh, wow!” Smith replied, with alarm.
They know now.