Louisiana leaders look at surplus

Published 12:04 am Sunday, December 29, 2013

VIDALIA — Louisiana has a problem the state hasn’t had to deal with in quite a while — too much money.

At the end of the year, the state treasury has an estimated $300 million surplus, made up in part by $163 million surplus left over from the 2012-2013 fiscal year and greater-than-expected collections generated by the recent tax amnesty period.

How that money will ultimately be spent — suggestions have been floated for directing the funds toward finishing Interstate 49, replenishing the state’s rainy-day fund and just using the money toward the 2014-2015 budget — will be decided when the legislature meets again in March.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal said he wants the excess cash steered to education and health care, without spelling out details. His recommendations should become clearer early in the new year when he unveils his budget proposal before the legislative session.

“We’ll obviously want to consult with legislative leaders and work with the Legislature,” the Republican governor said.

“I’d like to see those dollars ultimately invested in education and health care. I think those are two critical areas for the state.”

Rep. Andy Anders, D — Clayton, said he has not had time to fully analyze all possibilities, but “shooting from the hip” he, too, supported using the money for health care and education.

But Anders also said, if possible, his first priority would be to support directing some of the excess funds to the state agriculture department, which had to take mid-year cuts to funding.

The representative, who is the chairman of the House agriculture committee, said the department oversees such varied enterprises as field experiment stations and firefighting.

“I want to make sure Commissioner (Mike) Strain is able to run his office proficiently,” Anders said. “We have had to deal with the mid-year cuts, and he has worked his department to work around this, and I know we are still short in some areas in agriculture. As big an industry as agriculture is in the state of Louisiana — it’s the biggest industry — we need to invest in it for sure.”

Anders said he knows his input on how the money should be spent isn’t’ the only one, though.

“We are going to have 104 different ideas down there, and it is a matter of getting everybody’s heads together and making sure everybody is treated fairly,” he said. “If we have a surplus, I want to make sure everybody gets something instead of just one portion going to New Orleans or somebody else. I want to make sure the little guys get their share as do the big guys in the city.”

Sen. Neil Riser, R — Columbia, could not be reached for comment Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.