Louisiana budget questions remain for current year

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.