Louisiana may be facing a $750 million midyear budget deficit, but state employees in at least four departments will have fatter paychecks after former Gov. Bobby Jindal and his agency heads granted millions in raises just before leaving office.
"We understand they gave raises in the 11th hour of the (Jindal) administration, some literally as they were walking out the door, as we face the biggest financial crisis the state has ever faced," new Gov. John Bel Edwards' Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne told Gannett Louisiana.
Dardenne said he and his staff are still calculating the number of raises granted and the cost to the taxpayer.
"I don't know yet ... but I've asked for that information," Dardenne said.
Richard Carbo, Edwards' spokesman, said: "The governor directed each agency to evaluate the costs of the raises given out by the previous administration and we are awaiting those numbers."
LaPolitics.com editor Jeremy Alford, who first reported the raises, which were generally 4 percent, said early figures already show almost $20 million will be doled out in pay hikes during the current and next fiscal year, where a $1.9 billion budget hole projected. That tally is likely to grow as more pay increases are uncovered.
Dardenne said he has learned raises were granted in the Department of Transportation and Development, the Coastal Protection Restoration Authority, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Department of Environmental Quality.
He said the state is liable for the raises, which have already gone into effect, despite the budget crisis.
"We can't undo them from a Civil Service standpoint," Dardenne said. "It's unfortunate some employees will get raises and others won't."
He said under the current circumstances, it was “inappropriate at best to assign these raises in the waning days of the administration."
"I think everybody was well aware of the dire financial concerns of the state and that we couldn't afford to grant these type of pay increases at this time," Dardenne said.
Former LDWF Secretary Robert Barham said the raises he granted "won't affect the state budget because the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is funded by self-generated revenue through fees and lands (the state owns)."
"The LDWF is in good financial shape — better than what we found it in," Barham said. "Even with the pay raises we projected out several years in the black. And the reason the department is doing to well is because of the employees."
Barham said he can't speak for other former agency heads whose departments are dependent on general fund state revenue, but he understands the new administration's concerns. Barham said he wasn't directed by Jindal to issue the raises nor did he talk to the governor personally about them.
The Roving Reporter G.