- Associated Press - Friday, September 25, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana’s expected deficit for last year is driven at least partially by people and businesses cashing in on more tax refunds and credits than anticipated, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief budget adviser said Friday.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said it’s likely the state closed the books on the last budget year in the red. But she said the numbers aren’t complete, and she wouldn’t release any details about how large she expects the gap to be in the 2014-15 fiscal year that ended June 30.

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin have both said they’ve been told by the Jindal administration that the state ended last year with a deficit.

Among the causes, Nichols said tax credit and refund filings are higher than expected, particularly in the film tax credit program.

“The largest issue that we’re working to finalize is just the general accounting of everything and how the tax refunds play into that number,” she said.

Lawmakers enacted a new cap on the film tax credits in the current budget year to help close a massive shortfall and protect public colleges and health care services from steep cuts. A maximum of $180 million in film tax credits can be cashed in annually. The cap kicked in July 1 and expires after three years.

Nichols said it’s likely people filed for film credits earlier than usual to ensure they could use them, rather than risk running into problems with the cap.

The Jindal administration will disclose the size of the deficit in mid-October, at a meeting of the joint House and Senate budget committee. Treasurer John Kennedy said his office has done preliminary estimates that suggest the shortfall will top $100 million. Auditors will comb through the figure, with a final number not expected until January.

If lawmakers and the Jindal administration wait to deal with the deficit until the auditing is complete, that would leave the problem to a new governor and new Legislature, elected this fall. Jindal is term-limited. His successor will take office in mid-January.

But Nichols said the governor has already enacted hiring and spending freezes in this year’s $25 billion budget that could help close the gap left from last year. She said it’s possible the Jindal administration could do more to address the shortfall.

“I’m certainly not saying we won’t take action,” she said.

Any deficit will have to be closed before the end of the current budget year, which closes June 30.

Word of the latest gap comes as Jindal is running for the GOP presidential nomination and pitching himself as a strong manager of Louisiana’s finances.

And more problems are expected with this year’s budget. Shortfalls have emerged in the state’s free TOPS college tuition program and Medicaid program. Also, the oil price slump is expected to force cuts to address lower-than-expected severance tax and mineral royalty collections.

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