By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Louisiana officials are scrambling to find the money to stage a primary election next year after Governor Bobby Jindal, a potential presidential candidate, did not provide funding in his annual budget.
Jindal's spending plan, unveiled earlier this month, would impose steep spending cuts to close a projected $1.6 billion shortfall brought on by plunging oil revenues.
Among the items on the chopping block: the $3.5 million needed to conduct the state's presidential primary.
It would be the first time in decades that Louisiana has not set aside money for a primary election, said Meg Casper, a for the state agency that conducts elections.
"We've never had a scheduled election not included in the budget," said Casper, Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler.
The primary is not in peril, said Jindal's budget office.
State officials will work with the legislature to come up with the money needed to stage the March 5, 2016 election, said Meghan Parrish, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Division of Administration.
"We're going to work with them to make sure this doesn't happen," Parrish said.
The decision to eliminate funding for the primary did not come from Jindal's office as each state agency was given latitude to find cuts of their own, she said.
Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature have not yet decided how to proceed, said Chris Keaton, a staffer on the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee.
If the state does go ahead with its primary, tentatively scheduled for March 5, 2016, the results could prove disappointing for Jindal, who has seen his popularity plummet in the state. Two recent polls found that nearly two-thirds of voters in the state disapprove of his job as governor.
Democrats say Jindal may be trying to kill the primary in order to set up a party-run caucus or convention that would give his allies a greater say in the outcome.
"He wants to convince his own core group of people to rig it for him so he doesn't come out looking so bad," said Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the Louisiana State Democratic Party.
Among potential Republican candidates, Jindal registered less than 1 percent support in a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in February.
Another potential Republican presidential candidate, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, included funding for a 2016 primary in latest budget proposal.
(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; editing by Caren Bohan)