Thursday, March 09, 2006


Budget takes gigantic leap

Jim Beam Columnist

Our hurricane-ravaged state has suddenly gone from rags to riches. Or at least that’s what it looks like after Gov. Kathleen Blanco Monday proposed a record $20.3 billion budget for fiscal 2006-07.

You can understand why a number of legislators did a doubletake when the governor unveiled her ambitious spending plan. They were asked last November to cut $1 billion from the $18.7 billion budget they had approved for the current fiscal year.

Even some of Blanco’s allies were taken by surprise by a proposal that is $1.6 billion higher than state spending prior to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Rep. John Alario, D-Westwego, who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is worried about using one-time federal money for ongoing programs.

“We’re using this to fill a hole,” he said. “I’m worried about what happens to us next year.”

Nothing has changed

Spokesmen for two respected nonpartisan government watchdog organizations are also voicing concerns.

Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, said Congress will be watching how we spend money while considering whether to give the state more federal dollars.

“This has got to be a year when we just hold our breath and figure out how to target our money strategically,” Erwin said. “If we’re seen as not doing that, I think it’ll hurt us.”

Jim Brandt, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, said the state may be postponing an inevitable day of reckoning.

“The question remains: Are we overextending ourselves based on the amount of one-time nonrecurring revenue in the budget?” Brandt asked.

The hundreds of thousands of displaced and hurricane-weary homeowners have to be wondering how state government can spend so lavishly. There doesn’t appear to be much in the budget and bond plans for any of them.

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