BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — In the latest round of midyear budget cuts, Gov. Bobby Jindal is taking a deeper carving knife to the spending of his fellow statewide elected officials than to most agencies under his control, including his own office.
The governor's office will come through the $61 million in slashing largely unscathed, taking a reduction of $10,000 — less than one-tenth of 1 percent of its budget.
Departments overseen by the lieutenant governor, treasurer, insurance commissioner and agriculture commissioner are slated to take hits of 3 to 4 percent, more than nearly all departments managed by Jindal's cabinet secretaries.
Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said the offices controlled by Louisiana's elected officials, excluding the governor, comprise less than 1 percent of the $25 billion state budget. But they're in line for 16 percent of the midyear budget cuts recommended by Jindal.
"We're taking the brunt of it," Strain said Thursday. "This is unfair. We all have duties to perform that are mandated by law and the constitution."
Jindal released his plan last week to close a midyear deficit for the fiscal year that ends June 30, a gap tied to nose-diving oil prices. The recommendations will be considered by lawmakers Feb. 20.
Several elected officials say they'll be forced to consider layoffs and furloughs to cope with their cuts, while none of the departments under Jindal's control say they will need to resort to those types of actions.
"Clearly, the disproportionate cuts are on the statewide elected officials. All you have to do is look at the numbers," said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. "It seems out of whack."
Jindal spokesman Mike Reed described the governor's office reduction as "in line with other offices."
Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, the governor's chief budget architect, said the midyear cuts are part of a larger plan to also balance next year's budget, when the state faces a $1.6 billion shortfall. Nichols said elected officials' agencies will sustain less of an overall hit over the two-year period.
"The bottom line is you can't view the midyear in isolation," she said.
Nichols said when the statewide elected officials see the cuts proposed for departments next year, "they won't be talking about disparities in reductions."
Dardenne is closing three state historic sites, reducing hours for all state parks and keeping the state library open only two days a week to cut $3.6 million out of his office and his Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. He's laying off 111 workers and scaling back his spring tourism campaign to attract visitors to the state.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler is considering layoffs and furloughs.
"I am respectful that the Division of Administration has a tremendous budget challenge to tackle," Schedler said in a statement. But he added that the "disparity in the level of cuts handed to the statewide elected officials ... quite frankly gives me pause."
Strain's office is one of the state's largest regulatory agencies, overseeing items like inspections of gasoline pumps, pesticide use and dairy products. He said his $2 million cut will shut down seedling nurseries and limit fuel purchases for his firefighting crews.
He's implemented an early retirement program in the hopes that will prevent furloughs.
Some of the elected officials plan to take their case to lawmakers, in the hopes of lessening their midyear cuts. But Nichols said that would worsen next year's budget problems.
"I'm not anticipating changes or contemplating changes because I understand the full scope of the problem," she said.
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Posted on Fri, February 13, 2015
by Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press