La. watchdog could lose half of its investigators as part of budget cuts

La. watchdog could lose half of its investigators as part of budget cuts

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Louisiana Inspector General told lawmakers Wednesday that cuts to his office could severely limit his ability to investigate fraud and public corruption in the state.

The IG's office is currently facing a reduction in the 30 percent range to its budget for next year. The cutback is part of efforts to fix the state's $750 million shortfall for fiscal year 2016-2017.

"We just don't have a good enough handle on public corruption in Louisiana to dial this back," IG Stephen Street said before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

He told lawmakers that because of how his agency is organized, cuts could realistically only come to personnel. As a worst-case scenario, the cuts could leave him with only five investigators - half of the number he said he should have.

With only 16 positions, the IG's office is already small. Two of those spots currently sit empty from employees leaving for other jobs. An additional four could be cut as part of budget restrictions. That would leave the IG's office down a third from its original workforce.

"If you applied that to D-H-H, which has 6,500 employees, that would be well over 2,000 people sent home," Street said.

Cuts of that magnitude, he told lawmakers, would impact his ability to investigate.

"If the person in the IG's chair does the job right, there's going to be blow back and lots of it," he said.

In recent years, the IG's office has successfully investigated seven cases of film tax credit fraud. Restitution payments from those cases will bring in approximately $10 million to the state. By comparison, the IG's requested budget for next year is $2 million.

"You can go to Bass Pros and buy a plug that goes in the bottom of the boat for $10. If you get rid of that plug, you'll save the $10, but eventually you're going to end up with damage to that boat that's exponentially way worse than $10," he said.

These cuts are not final, and can be reduced if lawmakers come back for another special session, where they could increase taxes.

An updated version of the executive budget reflecting the $750 million shortfall will not be released until next week.

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