Sam Hanna Jr.

The Republican leadership in the Legislature and Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards are at odds over how much money the state will have at its disposal to spend in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The disagreement spans about $103 million, including $25 million in unclaimed property that state Treasurer John Schroder, a Republican, refuses to release to the state’s general fund. The Edwards administration sued him over it this week, and a 19th Judicial District Court judge will decide in the near future whether Schroder is obligated under law to make the money available to the Legislature to appropriate.

The balance, or about $78 million, represents an uptick in tax collections. At least that’s what the Edwards administration argues. As expected, the Republican leadership, namely Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, disagree with the Edwards administration’s rather rosy revenue forecast.

At its most recent meeting, the Revenue Estimating Conference would not go along with the Edwards administration’s insistence that it recognize the $103 million in question. Since the REC could not reach a unanimous decision, which is required of it in determining revenue projections for the Legislature to work with, lawmakers must deal with a revenue figure that the REC had previously recognized, or a revenue figure that’s $103 million less than what the Edwards administration says it should be.

It’s important to recall that the REC is composed of the president of the Senate, or his designee; the Speaker of the House, or his designee; the Commissioner of Administration, who represents the governor; and a private economist. As you might have anticipated, it was Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne who argued the REC should increase the state’s revenue forecast by $103 million.

Though there’s no agreement between the Edwards camp and the Republican legislative leadership over the state’s revenue picture for the new fiscal year, the governor was undeterred. He unveiled a budget late last week for the 2020-2021 fiscal year that tops some $32 billion, including the $103 million that the Edwards administration is banking on.

Edwards has big plans for the $103 million. He wants to spend it on early childhood education, K-12 public education and higher education. To the consternation of the state’s teacher unions, Edwards’ proposed budget included no money for teacher pay raises. The governor shouldn’t fret; they’ll get over it. If they don’t, what are they going to do? Launch a recall petition?

The REC was established more than 30 years ago. It was intended to remove politics from establishing a revenue forecast for the Legislature to rely on in piecing together the state’s general fund budget and so on. It worked well for years, but in recent years we’ve witnessed the REC evolve into a political football for a progressive-minded governor and a somewhat conservative legislative leadership to kick around.

No one wins in this atmosphere, especially since the actors are arguing over pittance in a budget that runs into the billions of dollars.

And politicians wonder why the general public, by and large, has no faith in government on any level.

Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at samhannajr@samhannajr.com.

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