The same high oil prices that sent the nation's economy tottering into recession have left Louisiana with a problem most state governments wish they had - a budget surplus.
While New York, California and other states are being forced to make painful budget cuts, Louisiana officials are haggling over what to do with as much as $400 million in surplus money. And with years of pinched budgets and deficit financing forced on the state by the oil bust of the '80s, there is no shortage of ideas for what to do with the windfall.Louisiana's economy usually bucks trends in the rest of the nation, said Charles Pasqua, executive director of the Louisiana Municipal Association.
"When we're in good shape, they go down," Pasqua said. "When they're in their heyday, we're at our low ebb."
The state's preliminary unemployment rate for October dropped to 6 percent, only slightly above the national average, after skyrocketing above 13 percent during the late 1980s when the rest of the nation was enjoying the longest economic boom in decades.
A battle is looming in the Legislature on how to use the surplus to make up for deficits and unmet needs that are left over from the worst times since the Great Depression.
Gov. Buddy Roemer has said part of the projected surplus could be used to help retire about $900 million in bonds sold in 1987 to help retire the state's accumulated deficit.
The governor also has said he intends use at least $50 million to bump salaries at state colleges and universities up to the average of Southern states.