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Louisiana legislators seek legal opinion on budget constitutionality

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November 29, 2012

Louisiana

By Phil Sletten

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana: State Representative Kirk Talbot (R) wrote a letter to Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell requesting that his office evaluate the constitutionality of Republican Governor Bobby Jindal's state budget, which uses one-time money to help close the gap between projected revenues and spending allocations. The letter, which was signed by 18 other members of the Louisiana House of Representatives, suggests that the budget revenue projections were reliant on the assumption that other pieces of legislation would pass and that they were inflated by counting on revenue that was very unlikely to materialize, including the sale of state assets.[1]

The Louisiana Constitution prohibits budgeting more spending than revenue projections suggest are available, effectively requiring a balanced budget and no deficit spending. Despite this requirement, the recent Louisiana budget allocated $240 million more in expenses from the general fund than the official revenue forecast projected for the general fund. Governor Jindal's administration argues that the budget gap would actually be closed through other means, including $35 million in revenue from the lease or sale of the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital. However, Talbot and others argue that the Constitution also does not permit the closing of budget holes with legislative actions not included in the initial budget itself.[2]

The nineteen legislators who signed the letter are part of the Louisiana Budget Reform Campaign, which is a coalition of politicians, business leaders, and civic leaders that State House Representative Brett Geymann (R) began organizing in summer 2012 as a vessel for concerns over the budget-making process.[3] This group overlaps with those conservative lawmakers in the Louisiana House of Representatives sometimes called "the fiscal hawks."[2] These lawmakers expressed their general support for Governor Jindal in a video on the Louisiana Budget Reform Campaign's website, but came out against him on the issue of building the budget.[4]

The Louisiana Attorney General Caldwell's office has not yet confirmed whether it will respond to the letter.[2]

Concerning whether Caldwell's office will respond or not, Representative Kirk Talbot told The Times-Picayune, "I don't think he's obliged by law to rule on it but we would hope that he would."[2]

The letter was also signed by Representatives John Berthelot, Thomas Carmody, Jr., Ray Garofalo, Cameron Henry, Brett Geymann, Hunter Greene, Lance Harris, Joe Harrison, Nancy Landry, Nicholas Lorusso, Sherman Mack, Greg Miller, James Morris, J. Rogers Pope, Jerome Richard, Clay Schexnayder, John Schroder, and Alan Seabaugh.[1]

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