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COVID-19 fallout likely to impact Louisiana’s next budget

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Despite an unanticipated drop in revenue caused by business shutdowns in the wake of the coronavirus, Louisiana should end the current fiscal year with a balanced budget, Rep. Chris Turner said Tuesday.

“The good news is there was a really large surplus this year,” the Ruston Republican, who’s a member of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, said.

It was that surplus, along with $405 million in the rainy day fund, that had lawmakers feeling optimistic at the start of the legislative session March 9.

But, because of the adverse economic impact of the coronavirus, revenue forecasters project the state’s income for the spending year that begins July 1 will be down about $500 million.

That means the new budget likely won’t include the increases Gov. John Bel Edwards had proposed before the coronavirus became an economic factor, or at least not in the originally proposed amounts, Turner said.

In his opening-day speech to the Legislature — given the same day health officials confirmed the state’s first case of coronavirus — Edwards proposed $285 million in increases to programs, including education.

“Maybe one of the worst-case scenarios is the budget stays like it was this year,” Turner said.

During a normal legislative session, the appropriations committee would already be well into budget hearings, but not this year. Only a week into the regular session, lawmakers recessed until March 31 amid coronavirus concerns.

Committee members have been conferring by telephone, but are going to have to figure out a way to meet soon, Turner said.

The Legislature is scheduled to reconvene March 31 to decide if they’ll resume the ses sion or vote to recess again. The state is under a gubernatorial stay-at-home order until April 13 aimed at reducing and limited the spread of the virus; however, essential government functions are exempt.

By law, the Legislature must enact a budget by July 1.