Economists: COVID-19 could poke billion-dollar hole in Louisiana’s budget

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BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — Louisiana’s economic hurt amid the COVID-19 pandemic has its first official pricetag.

The pandemic will likely cost the state more than $1 billion in the budget year that starts July 1, the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference agreed Monday. State economists cite higher unemployment and lower oil prices prompted by the virus outbreak.

“There’s no crisis we’ve had that even comes close to this,” legislative economist Greg Albrecht told the four-member income forecasting panel. “This is Katrina all over again.”

The dim prospects leave the state’s general fund $867 million smaller, meaning the budget legislators build this spring will likely contain hefty cuts to state programs.

“We wish we weren’t in the situation we’re in,” Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said after the conference meeting adjourned. “There are still going to be reductions, no question about it.”

The federal CARES Act has given Louisiana $1.8 billion in aid. Whether lawmakers will be able to plug budget holes with those dollars depends on Congress loosening its guidelines.

Legislators must pass a state budget by June 30 before midnight. Their regular session, which had been halted for more than a month, must end by June 1, meaning lawmakers may dedicate a June special session to budget matters.

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