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(Associated Press)

(Associated Press)

Louisiana budget questions remain for current year

Last Modified: Friday, March 01, 2013 7:33 PM

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers, grappling with ways to balance next year's budget, may have a more immediate shortfall on their hands.

An analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Office released this week says more than $278 million plugged into previous spending plans backed by the Legislature have yet to materialize.

The lacking funds, according to the fiscal office tally, come from property sales, insurance proceeds, legal settlements and fund transfers anticipated by Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration and plugged into ongoing services, like health care programs.

If the dollars don't show up, lawmakers could be scrambling to plug another budget gap in the current 2012-13 fiscal year when they return for their legislative session in April.

Sen. Jack Donahue, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said it's too early to say lawmakers should be worried. He's asked the Jindal administration to provide an update March 15 to a joint meeting of the House and Senate budget committees.

"At this point, I think it's quite a bit of money, but I want to see what they say is coming in and what's not coming in," said Donahue, R-Mandeville.

Jindal's budget office says the administration anticipates the state will get all the money included in this year's spending plans.

"We are confident these funds will come in, and this is typical every year. The bottom line is that we have a balanced budget and it will stay a balanced budget," Michael DiResto, a spokesman for the Division of Administration, said in a statement Friday.

He disagreed with some of the calculations included in the fiscal office analysis. He also said some dollars listed in the tally already are available or have been received by the state, like $10 million in FEMA reimbursements for hurricane recovery expenses and $76 million in bond repayments.

Other items could be less certain.

For example, plans to shift $56 million from the state's self-insurance fund to spend on other government programs and services is tied up in a lawsuit over disputed insurance claims, according to a report written by Charley Rome, an analyst for the Legislative Fiscal Office.

New Orleans leaders, meanwhile, are balking at plans to sweep $20 million from the city convention center's reserve fund and backfill it with dollars from the state's construction budget.

Similar types of funding are anticipated in Jindal's budget proposal for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which has yet to be considered by lawmakers.

A group of conservative House Republicans, called the "fiscal hawks," have criticized using such piecemeal funding because it is too uncertain to plug into ongoing programs. They've blamed it for creating continued budget shortfalls.

Jindal administration leaders and a majority of lawmakers have disagreed, saying the financing is preferable to deeper budget cuts to education and health care.

Donahue said lawmakers will be scrutinizing the piecemeal financing proposed in next year's budget to be certain the dollars will arrive as expected.

"We need to make sure the sources of funding are sure sources before we count on them," he said.

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