House GOP leader blocks Louisiana income forecast boost

State News

File-This June 19, 2018, file photo shows appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, standing, speaks with Rep. Charles “Bubba” Chaney, R-Rayville, in the House Appropriations Committee in Baton Rouge, La. Louisiana’s income forecasting panel is expected Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, to revise its forecasts for the upcoming budget year, possibly giving the governor and lawmakers more money to spend on an ever-growing list of proposals. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte, File)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s income forecasting battles are continuing into Gov. John Bel Edwards’ next four-year term.

House budget committee chairman Cameron Henry, a conservative Republican who clashed with the Democratic governor during Edwards’ first term, refused Thursday to boost the state’s revenue projections as sought by the Edwards administration.

Henry cited concerns about the threat of a national recession, arguments with the treasurer’s office over a fund transfer and upcoming changes in legislative leadership as reasons to delay any adoption of a new income forecast.

“Uncertainties continue to grow,” said Henry, who will move to the Senate when the new term begins in January.

The three other members of the Revenue Estimating Conference — Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Senate President John Alario and independent economist Stephen Barnes — sought to increase this year’s forecast by $170 million and next year’s by $103 million.

But decisions by the conference require a unanimous vote of all four members, so Henry’s refusal to back the changes kept them from adoption. Henry was sitting on the panel Thursday for Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras.

The House leaders’ decision against a new forecast keeps Edwards from having more money to spend in the 2020-21 budget proposal he’ll offer to lawmakers in February, leaving the governor to work from lower numbers adopted in April. The stymieing of the forecast changes also creates procedural difficulties in how the budget process develops in the Legislature.

Barras and Henry blocked forecast changes at a similar time last year, delaying a boosted forecast for several months.

Two economists advise the income forecasting panel, one who works for the governor’s administration and the other for the Legislature. Each offers a proposed set of changes. Both said increases to the current projections were warranted based on Louisiana’s ongoing tax collections, and both said they built-in caution for a possible slowdown in the national economy.

Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget adviser, urged the panel to adopt the more conservative set of increases. He said refusing to adopt an updated forecast reflecting the latest data “is to thumb our nose at the constitution,” which outlines the process for revenue projecting.

After the meeting, Henry said waiting longer to boost estimates gives economists more time to track tax collections and economic trends.

“The estimates get more accurate the longer we wait,” he said.

The forecast already includes about $20 million each year that lawmakers aren’t certain to have available to them, dollars from the state’s unclaimed property account.

Treasurer John Schroder is refusing to transfer the dollars for spending on general operating expenses, calling the regularly used financing mechanism illegal. Dardenne and Alario disagree, saying Schroder is thwarting the budgeting and spending authority of state lawmakers.

Schroder has said if they want the money moved to general operations spending, they’ll have to take him to court.

“Stay tuned,” Dardenne said. “This is not going to be the end of this story.”

Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.