Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser cites funding woes to the Senate Finance Committee Monday. The committee has been getting the reaction of state agencies regarding cuts to their budgets under the state funding proposal for the coming fiscal year.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser says he will be forced to cut several areas under his responsibility next year — including cultural events, state parks and museums — because of Louisiana’s revenue shortfall.
Following his testimony today to the Louisiana Senate Finance Committee, Nungesser said some fiscal cuts he's made have broken his heart and warned future reductions would negatively affect art, parks and tourism across the state.
Nungesser’s office includes the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in House Bill 1, which holds the state’s $29 billion spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1. Under HB1, the funding instrument, the department will see a $3.3 million decrease in state general funds in its budget to $87.8 million from this year’s $91 million. The department also expects a $2 million decrease in self-generated revenue.
Buddy Boe, Nungesser’s senior advisor, called that $5 million loss a “double whammy.”
Less money means less funding for major cultural events, Nungesser told the committee: “Everybody took a cut.”
He offered as examples the department’s current contribution to the Essence Festival in New Orleans is about half of what it was last year — a difference from $950,000 to $500,000. Other events, such as the Bayou Classic went from $250,000 to $200,000, and Special Olympics, from $100,000 to $35,000. “[Cutting Special Olympics] broke my heart,” Nungesser said. “That’s all [these kids] do every year.”
Nungesser told the committee the current budget, without compensatory funds, could be “devastating” to state parks, noting about $54 million has been taken out of Louisiana’s state park system in the past eight years. He added that, under current conditions, starting in July museums could close and libraries could be eliminated. “When we were hit with this budget," Nungesser said, "we began yelling and screaming about what it could do.”
But Nungesser also said he is looking for new sources of revenue, such as renting out horseback riding and canoe services across the state. He also is interested in zip lines, which he said generate $500,000 annually for Alabama state revenues.
Nungesser also was optimistic about WrestleMania, a five-day event coming to New Orleans in 2018, which he said is second only to the Super Bowl in generating revenues.