Although TOPS survived budget cuts, rest of systems to feel hurt
The Louisiana special session was called to order by Gov. John Bel Edwards to mediate the mid-year budget deficit of $304 million.
On the first day of session, one of the proposals for helping with the mid-year budget deficit was to cut spending in K-12 schools, public colleges and universities and the prison system. The plan included: taking only $50 million from the rainy day fund, and pay for the difference — $69 million — by cutting public colleges and universities by $12 million, K-12 schools by $6 million, prisons by $9 million and the state health system by $44 million. This plan was withdrawn due to the large objections from Edwards and some of the Republican legislators.
To reach the $304 million, the governor proposed $63 million in other cuts, taking $44 million in the tobacco tax revenues and taking $78 million in unspent money from other accounts. Edwards wanted to take $119 million from the rainy day fund. The plan by House GOP leaders would siphon money from fees and statutory dedications that flow through a debt fund.
The Legislature was at the Capitol almost every day during the session. Some of the legislation passed includes House Bill 3. On Saturday, Feb. 18, the Senate read for final passage HB 3, which provides for increases/decreases of the state budget. Sen. LaFleur offered amendments to the document including on page 2, delete lines 40 and 41 and inserted the following: “Provided, further, that of the reductions to Schedule 09-306 Medical Vendor Payments 17 authorized herein any reductions in payments to rural hospitals or public private partnership 18 hospitals implemented by the department shall be applied to both hospital groups at the rate 19 of 0.99% of the total payments to that group of hospitals.” House Bill 3 passed the Senate is being sent back to the House for approval. The Department of Health and Hospitals received the most budget cuts out of all other resources.
The Legislature closed the $304 million mid-year budget deficit. The plan for closing the deficit in the budget— that ends June 30 —will use $99 million from the rainy day fund. The rest will be made through cuts to state agencies and other funding sources.
The plan also depends on close to $12 million from vacant jobs in these agencies. The Louisiana Department of Health received about a $40 million cut — the largest in the deficit resolution. The Legislature will be cut by $3.5 million. Around $2 million will be taken from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor. There were cuts to the Department of Education, State Police and local offices that offer mental health and addiction treatment. Attorney General Jeff Landry’s budget was cut. Fortunately, the Department of Corrections, which oversees prisons, was not cut. Most importantly, higher education and the popular TOPS scholarship program were not cut.
It is great that higher education and TOPS were not completely depleted during this special session, but at what cost? The Department of Health and Hospitals has received more cuts, and will continue to receive cuts. Louisiana ranks as one of the lowest states in health within the United States, but it is almost always the first resource to be cut. Our focus is skewed when it comes to the overall necessities of Louisiana citizens. The resources to accessing healthcare should not be sucked dry.
The session ended on Feb. 22 at midnight. Though they closed the deficit for this fiscal year, there is an estimate that the state will face a $400 million shortfall in the coming year. Will Louisiana ever be out of debt? The world may never know.