Maginnis: Nothing neat about balancing the budget
As the state House of Representatives takes up the budget this week, it has been four years since lawmakers have seen a surplus. For new members, that bygone concept seems as mythical as the unicorn. With revenue projections declining and costs—particularly Medicaid—ever rising, there is no simple way, despite rhetorical claims, to make ends meet. The state's fiscal situation may be bad but could be a lot worse. Or, as former House Speaker Jim Tucker would say, "I'll take a budget crisis over a cash-flow crisis any day." He could read a balance sheet to see that while the state is running deficits in the general fund, it is sitting on other piles of cash. The most useful such pile is the so-called rainy day fund, or Budget Stabilization Fund. Up to one-third of its $647 million balance can be tapped, just enough to cover the $211 million shortfall for the fiscal year ending June 30. Estimating revenues for months to years in advance is not rocket science; it's harder, especially with an economic recovery that stubbornly is not living up to Gov. Bobby Jindal's peppy rhetoric. To take from that fund requires two-thirds legislative approval, and some fiscal conservatives are dead set against it, even if not one of them has come up with a reasonable or unreasonable alternative solution to apply in the next seven weeks. The state has no business keeping a savings account when there are bills to pay, so legislators need to get over their qualms and make the withdrawal. Read the full column here.
(John Maginnis publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com.)
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