Latest Feud Between Governor, Attorney General: Budget Cuts

BATON ROUGE (AP) — The latest flashpoint between Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry centers on money, with the statewide elected officials sparring over budget cuts sought by Edwards to help close a $304 million deficit.

         The Democratic governor's budget-rebalancing plan, released this week, recommends the Republican attorney general's office for $6 million in reductions.

         Landry described the proposal as devastating to his more than $72 million budget for the financial year that ends June 30. He said it would ravage his office's ability to target child pornography, pursue fraudulent contracts, defend abortion restrictions and chase money owed to the state.

         "The governor is jeopardizing the services performed by the Louisiana Department of Justice," Landry said in a statement that suggested Edwards targeted his office because of partisan politics.

         Edwards' office says the attorney general is exaggerating the effect of the proposed cut and has been uncooperative in helping to trim state spending.

         "Insinuating that Gov. Edwards is limiting the attorney general's ability to prosecute child pornography or pro-life cases is outright false," Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said in a statement that suggested Landry was mismanaging money, causing his own financial problems.

         Lawmakers will decide whether to support Edwards' cut proposal in a special session that begins Monday to rebalance the state's $27 billion operating budget. It's not the first time the Legislature has been inserted into a dispute between the statewide elected officials.

         Edwards and Landry have sparred repeatedly since they took office last year, in the Legislature and in court. Landry is considered a possible challenger to Edwards in the 2019 governor's race.

         Edwards' budget-rebalancing plan hits the attorney general's office more heavily than other statewide elected officials, some of whom aren't proposed for a cut at all.

         The governor targets two separate pots of money in Landry's office. He's recommending lawmakers take $4 million from an escrow account to fill gaps elsewhere in the budget, and he's proposing a $1.9 million cut to other financing.

         The budget disagreement focuses primarily on the $4 million, dollars from a 2014 pharmaceutical settlement. The two sides don't agree on whether Landry is even legally allowed to spend it.

         The Edwards administration says under state law, the attorney general is required to turn over the money in escrow to the state treasury. Landry's predecessor, Buddy Caldwell, never remitted the money as required, according to the Edwards administration.

         "It was not budgeted to them. It belongs to the state," said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne. "Buddy put this money into this escrow account, but it shouldn't have been put there to begin with. And it shouldn't be there now."

         Landry disagrees. His office says the escrow account pays for ongoing operations of the office, using dollars that it generates from legal settlements it negotiates. Taking the $4 million, the attorney general's office says, would be a direct cut to its ability to perform its work.

         "The swipe of (the office's) escrow funds is a deep and real cut that significantly harms our pursuit of child predators, fraudulent contracts and corrupt government officials," the attorney general's office said.

         Of the remaining $1.9 million, it's unclear if Landry is disputing that cut. Attorney general's spokeswoman Ruth Wisher said the office "agreed to belt tightening to do our part to help with the state's fiscal crisis," but she didn't put a dollar figure on what reduction Landry supports.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte


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