SPONSORED: What to Expect This Time Around

When the Louisiana State Legislature convenes on March 12, one issue will overshadow all others — the budget. It will be the absolute centerpiece this year — not just this session. There are many complexities of balancing a budget and separated fact from speculation as the state enters regular session, beginning with how the state operates in fiscal matters.

Fiscal sessions are relegated to odd years, which adds a challenging layer in dealing with a budget deficit in 2018. “Over the years the Legislature has tried to separate “fiscal” and “non-fiscal” issues by alternating sessions from year to year,” said Mike Michot, senior director of state affairs for The Picard Group. A special session is likely to start on February 19 to address any revenue measures and meet the constitutional requirements that lawmakers must pass a balanced budget. The necessity to balance the budget will likely lead to proposed cuts, which means finding a balance between the state’s financial health and the its ability to provide needed services to its residents. The challenge will be finding areas to cut that have the least impact on state services that our citizens desperately need.

One of the most pressing matters, in terms of finding funds in a timely matter, may be when it’s time to match state dollars with federal dollars for infrastructure improvements. In his recent State of the Union address, President Trump noted that the $1.4 trillion infrastructure package for the nation will require local municipalities and states to match federal dollars. “Louisiana must figure out a way to free up money to prioritize and invest, or we will miss out on this opportunity for badly needed infrastructure dollars from the Federal government,” said Michot.

Much like the principle of spending money to make money, federal matches may offer a big bang for the state’s buck in moving large infrastructure projects forward, such as the Baton Rouge I-10 interchange, the only place in the country where an interstate is only one lane; the Lake Charles I-10 bridge; and I-49 South that will cut from Arkansas to New Orleans through Lafayette. There are billions of potential federal dollars and they all require a local or state match.

Two other matters likely to remain hot topics in the state session are Medicaid and gaming.

One of the most interesting gaming debates will likely center around riverboats, which are fast becoming old and outdated. Since the inception of riverboats, exemptions for land-based gaming, such as Harrah’s in New Orleans and racing locations, have given way to expanded gaming options. There are significant considerations for establishments that present a resort-style experience offering thousands of jobs, as well as those who are investing in the state. Rather than just allow riverboats to become land-based, additional opportunities for resort-style developments maybe on the horizon.

The conversations surrounding a shift in gaming regulation will no doubt be robust, but Michot said despite other matters to be dealt with, the main topic in the upcoming session (or sessions) will be handling the budget.

Here we go…!

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