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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. (Associated Press)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. (Associated Press)

Jindal's WISE fund may be in jeopardy

Last Modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 10:48 AM

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s bid to add millions of dollars for workforce development and give more than 40,000 state workers a pay raise may be in jeopardy.

The governor’s budget proposes a $40 million allocation for the Workforce Innovation for a Stronger Economy, or WISE fund. It’s to provide money to universities and community colleges for workforce development in degrees and skills needed for the looming industrial and technology expansions throughout the state.

Jindal also proposed giving state workers a pay raise, their first in a number of years.

But some state lawmakers aren’t sure where the money is coming from and have expressed a reluctance to approve funding for these recurring expenses. The WISE fund passed unanimously in the House earlier this month. The devil, though, is where the money comes from to fund it, not this year, but in the future.

State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, a consistent critic of the governor’s budgeting, told The Advocate of Baton Rouge that Jindal’s spending plans for 2014-2015 is filled with creative accounting that likely will not come to fruition.

‘‘All of a sudden,’’ said state Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, ‘‘what you thought was relatively stable, Pandora’s box has opened.’’

State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said he liked the WISE fund concept, but questioned whether the state could afford it.

The state Legislative Fiscal Office said the state budget could be nearly $1 billion out of whack in 2016, the year Jindal leaves office.

‘‘It’s looks like all we’re doing is kicking the can down the road, and now it looks like the can might be getting bigger,’’ said state Rep. Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville.

State Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton, noted that the pay raises and WISE fund are recurring expenses.

‘‘What good is it to give a pay raise and then have to have a 10 percent reduction and send people home?’’ said Burns.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, the governor’s point person on the budget, said it’s up to state lawmakers to figure out how to fund these items. Some state lawmakers believe the governor is banking on a rosier revenue projection next month.

Yet legislation that would have allowed lawmakers to review a governor’s proposed budget two weeks prior to a meeting of the state Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget failed 11-8 last week in the House Appropriations Committee. Geymann said the bill would have given legislators more time to generate questions about the budget and add more transparency.

So state lawmakers have little room to complain about Jindal’s funding manipulations when they scuttled an attempt for better access and oversight of the state budget.

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