Special session likely, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder says
State lawmakers should expect a special session this fall to tackle an anticipated midyear budget shortfall, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said Monday.
The coronavirus pandemic’s effect on the budget remains uncertain, but the next meeting of the Revenue Estimating Conference should provide a better picture.
The fiscal discussion will not hinge only on a balanced budget, however.
“We will have to deal with dollars as to how we allocate them out, like we did last time for Main Street program and the unemployment issue,” said Schexnayder, R-Gonzales.
Legislators also face a dwindling reserve fund for the unemployment payouts.
The funding for the jobless benefits shriveled from $700 million in March to $240 million in late July.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has said the state may borrow money from the federal government to keep the unemployment benefits program solvent.
“Ours was one of the strongest systems in the country, and we’re going to be one of the last states in the country to borrow from the feds before the coffers empty,” Schexnayder said. “If you look at Texas and Georgia, they’ve already accumulated a large amount of debt from the unemployment loans they took out, but we’ve been lucky to hold out this long … it’s a good program, but it needs tweaking.”
Despite the fiscal hardships, Schexnayder believes the state’s economic woes may not turn out as dire as they appeared in spring.
A stronger than expected retail showing during the pandemic has been the saving grace, he said.
“It’s almost hard to believe, but spending was up,” Schexnayder said. “People have remodeled their homes, and a lot of people built outdoor kitchens and other projects.
“My son works in construction and they say their numbers look just as good it was when construction was up after Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “The numbers have looked good.”
The stronger than anticipated numbers have been evident in parish governments, where higher than expected sales tax figures have eased the fears of deep shortfalls on local levels.
“We will have to work out the numbers, but things may not seem as bad as we thought,” Schexnayder said.