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|Behold the surplus|
State lawmakers are making plans to spend some $1 billion in surplus funds left over from the state's 2006-07 fiscal year.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is expected to call a special session of the Legislature in March for lawmakers to consider a number of proposals on what to do with the money.
At the very least, Jindal wants the Legislature to set aside $50 million to improve infrastructure concerns in the Shreveport area. We have been told the work is needed to convince the U.S. Air Force to build a permanent cyberspace command center there.
Legislators should follow Jindal's lead, knowing the construction of a permanent cyberspace center in the Shreveport area would create good-paying jobs for the people of northwest Louisiana and beyond.
That leaves roughly $950 million—give or take—for lawmakers to appropriate in a state which has hovered on the brink of a recession for months. Certainly, legislators will be tempted to spend those surplus funds on some old-fashioned, pork-barrel projects, which, on the surface, may prompt the people to think they are getting something for nothing from Baton Rouge.
Talk is rampant among lawmakers about spending some of the surplus on highway construction projects throughout Louisiana. Obviously, they have been listening to state highway department officials, who have been telling us for some time now that there exist a backlog of roughly $14 billion in highway construction needs that must be met in the near future. Pay now or pay dearly later. At least that is what we have been told.
We also have heard from a number of legislators who believe they should spend some of the surplus on the accumulated deficit in the state's retirement systems, better known as the state's unfunded accrued liability.
Currently, the state's retirement systems, including the pension plan for school teachers, are liable for roughly $10 billion in benefits and the like for retired state employees and for the state employees who will retire in the future.
Yet, the Legislature has failed miserably over the years in appropriating enough money to shore up the deficits in the retirement systems.
And the bill is coming due.
In 20 years or so, or around 2029, the state's retirement systems will be bankrupt for all practical purposes. That means retired state employees—including school teachers—could see their retirement benefits disappear if the Legislature does not take the appropriate steps soon in spending the money necessary to maintain the solvency of those retirement systems.
While we recognize the need for Louisiana to invest heavily in improving the infrastructure in the state to help grow the economy here, we feel the Legislature should exhibit some restraint in spending the surplus on so-called feel-good projects.
Instead, the Legislature should do something prudent for a change.
Paying down the deficits in the state's retirement systems would be a good start.