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Edwards, Roemer Squabble Over Budget Cuts

November 22, 1987

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ Gov.-elect Buddy Roemer, warning that Louisiana could go broke while he is forced to sit on the sidelines, has begun squabbling over spending cuts with Gov. Edwin Edwards, a lame duck with 3 1/2 months left in office.

Edwards, who conceded to Roemer without a runoff after the brash reformer led the Oct. 24 primary, pledged two weeks ago to give his successor unlimited authority in trimming state expenditures as long as Roemer was willing to take the political heat.

Roemer has no legal right to be involved in the budget process until he takes office March 14. Although a constitutional amendment that starts the governor’s term in January has been approved, it does not take effect until 1992.

Since the initial pledge of mutual cooperation, Edwards allowed Roemer to appoint the top administrative official in the governor’s office, but has refused to permit state agencies to recommend suggested budget cuts.

As Roemer huddled last week with budget advisers to find cuts of more than $100 million, the governor said he would reject cutbacks that would ″do very, very serious damage to people″ or completely abolish state programs.

Roemer, a congressman from northwest Louisiana, said he will not cut vital education funding and welfare programs, although he did not rule out the possibility of state employee layoffs and elimination of some programs.

At the heart of the fight is a state budget that has already been cut from $6.8 billion to $5.9 billion over the past three years following the collapse of oil and gas prices.

Complicating the issue is a philosophical difference between Roemer, known as a fiscally conservative Democrat in the House, and Edwards, a populist Democrat who embraces the 50-year tradition of state government funding services run by local governments in many other states, such as charity hospitals and school systems.

″We have a different philosophy of government and there is a limit to which I am willing to go in an effort to accommodate them,″ Edwards said of Roemer’s budget transition team.

The governor-elect accused Edwards of not following through on his pledge of cooperation.

″It’s a lousy bargain because he abdicates his responsibility, he handicaps me for not having the agency heads that are mine in place,″ Roemer said. ″I am working literally with two arms tied behind my back.″

Edwards has said he would sign any specific budget cut recommended by Roemer. The governor can cut most legislative appropriations up to 20 percent without permission from lawmakers.

Roemer led Edwards in the first primary following a campaign in which he pledged to put every state agency under a fiscal microscope and restructure Louisiana’s tax system to encourage business development.

Roemer, who plans to announce his recommended cuts soon, says the state will close the fiscal year on June 30 with an accumulated deficit of $600 million to $700 million and a cash-flow shortfall of $500 million.

Unless $200 million to $300 million in short-term spending cuts are made, state government will run out of money in February or March, Roemer contends.

Edwards said the state ″is not going to go belly up″ before he leaves office.

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