The return to the state legislature marked a much different scenario than what existed for lawmakers before the coronavirus, according to legislator who represents a portion of Iberville Parish.
Lawmakers returned to the State Capitol on May 4 to continue the 2020 legislative and a deep hole in the budget amid the coronavirus quarantine and a freefall in oil prices.
“We have a tough job ahead of us as we move forward,” said Jeremy LaCombe, D-Fordoche. “We have reservations about going back into the State Capitol as we try keep ourselves and others healthy and safe, but we have a job to do.”
Most legislators – including LaCombe – returned to the Capitol on Monday, but some sat out, including Baton Rouge Democrat Rep. Ted James, who is recovering from COVID-19.
Lawmakers will be behind the eight-ball as they work to grind out a balanced budget in a regular session that is supposed to end Monday, June 1.
They will have the task of formulating spending plan on the heels of a nosedive in sales tax revenue due to quarantines due to the coronavirus.
To make matters even more challenging, the plummet will require additional cuts across the board for state offices and services.
“This was not supposed to be that kind of year,” said LaCombe, who represents the northern portion of Iberville Parish. “We thought we would have a $500 million surplus and being able to make more commitments to education, pay off some debts and get some things accomplished on a positive note – all of that has been wiped out."
The plunge in oil prices delivers an added blow to the state revenue.
The prices began to tumble about the time lawmakers went into session March 9, but numbers have since dropped to levels not seen since the 1980s.
A drilling war between Saudi Arabia created a huge oil glut that led to the freefall, Meanwhile, a reduction of 10 million barrels per day by the Saudis hardly put a dent on the oil supply.
“Price wars between Russia and OPEC did no favors, and that would’ve been a crippling blow all in itself,” LaCombe said. “But that and the COVID-19 pandemic will cause a lot of heartburn later this year, so we have tough decisions to make on which unnecessary services we will have to cut.”
The extension of the Stay at Home mandate until May 15 did not help matters on tax revenue, but the state had no choice but to continue the quarantine, he said.
“On one hand, there’s nobody who doesn’t want the economy reopening and having us generate revenue,” Lacombe said. “But on the other hand, people are dying.
“People don’t realize how far behind the eight-ball we were on numbers,” he said. “It appears numerically we’re getting better with the measures and we’re taking it off its epicenter, but we were in a different position than Arkansas and Texas.”