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Policy: Budgets & Deficits

Judge questions Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget balancing method

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Associated Press,Louisiana,Budgets and Deficits,Bobby Jindal,Law

BATON ROUGE, La. — A judge has decided that Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers shouldn't have used dollars from a retirement fund for probation and parole officers to balance the state operating budget.

If Tuesday's ruling is upheld, the implications could be larger than repaying the $3.7 million, because the Jindal administration and the Legislature have used similar tactics to repeatedly balance Louisiana's budget in recent years.

The Advocate reports (http://theadvocate.com/home/7567526-125/court-ruling-questions-jindal-budget ) Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said the state will appeal Judge William Morvant's ruling. She said she expects it to be overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

"There is no immediate budget impact to the state," Nichols said in a statement.

At issue is what is known in state government as a fund sweep.

Lawmakers set up funds to steer money generated from fees and fines to specific items. But as the state has faced budget problems, the governor and lawmakers have been removing the dollars from those dedicated funds to fill other gaps in the state budget, using the dollars for something other than what they were intended.

The Louisiana Probation and Parole Officers Association sued the Legislature after $3.7 million from a fund that takes a portion of probation and parole fees to enhance retirement benefits was instead moved last year into the state's general fund.

The association argued that the fees paid into the fund were used as if general state revenue from a tax, and such a conversion was unconstitutional.

House Clerk Alfred "Butch" Speer sent an email to legislative leaders, warning about the possible wider effect of the ruling.

"Even though this ruling is limited to the contested provision dealing with the probation and parole officers, if the Judge is correct in his analysis AND if his analysis is adopted by his colleagues, this ruling could well ripple into other fund sweeps," Speer wrote.

The Public Service Commission also is suing over a similar removal of money from its dedicated accounts.

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