La. lawmakers working to close deficit within 2 weeks

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 16, 2010

BATON ROUGE (AP) — House Speaker Jim Tucker said lawmakers want to close the state’s $319 million deficit within two weeks, hoping to tap unspent funds in state agency accounts while seeking to avoid furloughs of state employees.

The $29 billion budget must be rebalanced before the fiscal year ends June 30. But with only 10 weeks remaining in the year, that harshens any cuts that will be levied on agencies because they have such a short time to slash funds.

Lawmakers are considering whether to use money from the state’s ‘‘rainy day’’ fund and other one-time dollars to plug some gaps. Tucker said Thursday that legislative staff and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget advisers were scouring state agency budgets for available account balances that could be used to help offset the deficit.

Jindal said he’d have his recommendations by Friday for dealing with the deficit.

Tucker, R-Terrytown, said he believes the state will address the problem without any ‘‘drastic reductions’’ in services, though he didn’t outline a specific set of plans.

‘‘This is not a catastrophe. We will wake up tomorrow, we will be able to deal with this sufficiently through a number of different means and we will move on,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘And I don’t think it’s going to mean any type of drastic reductions in services to the people of this state.’’

Asked if the state departments can avoid worker furloughs, Tucker said lawmakers would do everything they can to avoid them — though public colleges have warned if they take another deep cut, they may be forced to send some workers home temporarily without pay.

The latest deficit is tied to unexpected drops in the revenue expected from individual income, sales and severance taxes. It’s the state’s second deficit this year. Any cuts would come on top of $248 million in reductions ordered by Jindal earlier this fiscal year.

In anticipation of the latest deficit, the governor ordered a partial freeze last month on state spending for travel, supplies, contracts and other services deemed nonessential in most state government agencies.