BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — After sifting through end-of-year accounting figures, lawmakers agreed Friday that Louisiana is sitting on a pool of nearly $179 million in unspent cash that can help them with the state's continuing budget problems.
A vote of the joint House and Senate budget committee put to rest an ongoing dispute over whether Louisiana ended the last budget year with a surplus or deficit.
The committee agreed that the state spent $167 million more than it took in during the fiscal year that ended June 30. But it also agreed that Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration had found $346 million in unspent funds that hadn't properly been accounted for over many years.
The bottom line? The money helped close the deficit from last year, leaving $178.5 million remaining to steer toward next year's $1.4 billion shortfall or other financial gaps that may appear before this fiscal year ends.
"I think there is agreement that this is real money," said Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. "I wanted to make sure it was real money before we took action."
In October, the Jindal administration announced that the state closed last year's books with a surplus, saying it identified millions in state funds that hadn't been calculated over several years.
Lawmakers and state Treasurer John Kennedy viewed the figure with skepticism and questioned whether the money was available for spending even if it existed in state bank accounts.
But a review from the non-partisan Legislative Auditor's Office agreed with the administration's calculations, saying the dollars had been carried over from year to year but were never accounted for in state revenue estimates.
With the auditor's financial determination in hand, the joint budget committee agreed to certify the state had an "undesignated general fund cash balance" of $178.5 million. Kennedy didn't object to the calculation.
Before any of the money can be used by the governor and lawmakers, the state's income estimating panel also has to agree to the figure. That panel's approval is expected to come later this month.
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Posted on Fri, January 16, 2015
by MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press