Dec 9, 2010 9:36 PM by Alison Haynes
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal said he's considering the sale of state prisons, office buildings and future lottery proceeds to create upfront cash to patch holes in next year's budget.
Jindal floated the ideas Thursday in a closed-door meeting with top lawmakers, as the governor weighs how he'll propose closing a $1.6 billion budget gap in the 2011-12 fiscal year that begins July 1 while maintaining his staunch opposition to tax hikes.
Any cuts will fall heaviest on public colleges and health care services for the poor, disabled and elderly because they are the two largest areas of unprotected state spending. Criticism has grown of the depth of looming cuts, and the Jindal administration is combing through ways to lessen the slashing.
"I think it would be irresponsible to try to force those reductions, especially given the impact on higher education and health care, without at least considering other options," Jindal said at the Governor's Mansion as he outlined the proposals.
Legislative leaders wouldn't comment on the specific ideas, instead only saying they would review them. Resistance is expected in the state House, where lawmakers have repeatedly bristled at recommendations to use short-term sources of revenue to pay for continuing programs.
Among the possibilities listed by Jindal are selling prisons in Allen and Winn parishes, privatizing a state-run health insurance program, selling future lottery proceeds to investors to get immediate cash and selling state office buildings and then leasing back the space.
The governor stressed he's only considering the ideas and hasn't committed to endorsing any of them. His estimates were that if they were all done, the proposals could generate more than $800 million for the state - closing half of next year's shortfall.
They would, however, also largely drum up one-time money to pay for ongoing expenses, which Jindal has previously said wasn't a good way to budget for the state.
On Thursday, the governor said the dollars could help lessen cuts while his administration also shrinks the size of government and until the state's revenues stabilize and begin to climb again.
Jindal's budget proposal is due to lawmakers in March.
"No matter whether we do these ideas or not, we're going to be making significant reductions to the budget," he said. He added, "My view is that it is absolutely fiscally responsible to continue to shrink our government while at the same time looking at the options to help mitigate the impact, especially on higher education and health care."
House Speaker Jim Tucker said he's concerned about any use of one-time dollars for recurring expenses, and he said he considers the money that would be raised by the governor's proposals one-time in nature. He also said it could be difficult to budget for anticipated sales, bond proposals and privatization plans without them being finalized and the dollars certain.
"I told them that I was concerned about the timing of any of these ideas because we cannot make contingent appropriations, and that's a hurdle I'm not certain we can get over," said Tucker, R-Terrytown.
Senate President Joel Chaisson, D-Destrehan, said he told the governor he would keep an open mind to his proposals and asked Jindal to reconsider his anti-tax increase stance and support a cigarette tax hike.
As for the governor's ideas, Chaisson said, "I appreciate how difficult a job the governor has to try to present a balanced budget given the $1.6 billion budget shortfall. I appreciate the fact that he is exploring alternatives to cuts to try to balance that budget."