By State Treasurer John Kennedy

The legislative session began with a lot of promise. We heard talk of “competitive budgeting,” “performance-based appropriations” and “prioritizing expenditures.” Politicians are usually incrementalists, a nip here and a tuck there, despite their rhetoric of radicalism. This time, however, was supposed to be different.

What we ended up with was not the proposed $24.2 billion budget, but a $26 billion budget that is chock full of one-time money. Legislators used $1.5 billion in federal stimulus dollars, $198 million from the Rainy Day Fund, $242 million from tax amnesty proceeds and millions from the State Emergency Response Fund.

Beginning next year, all $2.8 billion of these one-time funds used to balance the budget will be gone. The money won’t be there, but the expenses will. Additionally, we owe $1.8 billion to the federal government for our share of the new levee system, $362 million for Medicaid overspending several years ago and between $100 million and $150 million a year to subsidize the new Charity Hospital in New Orleans. To make matters worse, there’s an oil spill in the Gulf and a moratorium on offshore drilling, which contributes as much as $60 billion to the state’s economy.

The budget that was passed is only going to exasperate these problems. It may force mid-year cuts with no time to plan for them. The failure to pass more significant long term solutions will worsen the already grim fiscal outlook for the coming years.

So what can we do about it? For starters, we can get control of the costs of our $7 billion health care delivery system. We can also get a better handle on the state’s labor costs and can reduce the 16,000 consulting contracts in the state. These are just a few ways we can immediately cut costs; there are many more.

For the past five years, state leaders have prized short-term pleasure over long-term prosperity. It’s been all about the next earmark, pork barrel project, or next batch of federal money. Critical debates and difficult decisions have been put off for another time and another day. That day of reckoning has arrived, and it’s time to take charge of our future.

Sarah Mulhearn
(225) 342-0012