From MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana House budget-writing committee Tuesday patched together a $25 billion budget for next year that would cut public colleges and health care services, force state worker layoffs and continue privatization efforts in state agencies.
But after backing the funding proposals in 22-2 votes, members of the Appropriations Committee also warned Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s administration that they disagree with the amount of one-time money used to pay for continuing services and said the budget needs a heavy rewrite before getting full House approval.
Dollars for public colleges and health care services depend on the outcome of the haggling in the House, since those two areas are the most vulnerable to slashing spending.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, successfully pushed a plan that tapped into additional sources of one-time money and savings from debt refinancing to help fill a $300 million drop in state revenue projections since Jindal proposed his budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The income estimate slide is tied to lower-than-expected personal and business income tax collections.
“Without this (one-time money), you’re going to get deep into the services of this state,” Fannin said of the possible budget cuts. “I don’t know that you truly understand what the ramifications of that will be.”
Conservative lawmakers bristled at the patchwork funding, saying the cuts included in the 2012-13 spending plans don’t go far enough because the budget would require $340 million in one-time cash to remain balanced, money not certain to continue year after year.
“You have to come to a reality sooner or later that maybe we can’t afford the government that we grew,” said Rep. Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales. “When you sit up here and see the millions and billions of dollars being spent, I think a lot of people here realize maybe we haven’t cut as much as we need to.”
Most of the one-time money is plugged into the Medicaid program for the poor, elderly and disabled and used to draw down additional federal matching dollars.
Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, said the Jindal administration has pledged for more than four years to wean the state off the use of one-time cash for ongoing programs.
“We’ve been asked to be patient, we’re going to get out of it. But I don’t see us doing that,” he said.
Jindal’s top budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, said the administration has reduced the one-time money in the budget and has tried to use it in strategic ways, to help agencies restructure, privatize services and become more efficient.
He said the state has the smallest number of employees in two decades and state government is spending $283 million less for payroll than it did when Jindal took office. Rainwater said the one-time dollars were plugged into critical services like health care and higher education.
“You can’t take the chain saw and just cut across the table,” Rainwater told the committee.
The full House is scheduled to debate the budget May 10.
“I think this bill does need a lot of work done to it,” said Rep. Tony Ligi, R-Kenner, one of several Republicans who voted to move the budget out of committee but said his vote isn’t assured on the House floor.
Ligi said lawmakers wanted to send a message to the Jindal administration “about the need for less spending and smaller government.”
As passed by the Appropriations Committee, public colleges would see a $50 million drop in funding, on top of a similar cut levied on them in December. State agencies could be forced to make up to 2,700 layoffs.
Private companies would be hired to run a state prison in Avoyelles Parish, a state employee health care plan in the Office of Group Benefits and two facilities that care for developmentally disabled people in Hammond and Bossier City.
The operations of ferries in Gretna, Algiers and Chalmette also would be turned over to private firms, while ferries at Edgard and White Castle would be shuttered. State prisons in Pineville and Keithville would be closed, and the inmates at J. Levy Dabadie Correctional Center and Forcht-Wade Correctional Center would be shifted to other facilities.
Rainwater’s office would be left to dole out another $43 million in cuts to agencies, with no direction for where to trim money.
Lawmakers reshuffled hurricane recovery dollars for homeowner elevation projects and stripped all funding for the state Office of the Inspector General, saying the agency’s work overlaps the duties performed by other law enforcement and auditing offices in state government.
Meanwhile, the House committee has yet to decide how to deal with a $211 million deficit in the current year’s budget.
Lawmakers are weighing whether to use the state’s “rainy day” fund to plug the gap because it would be difficult to cut such a large amount of spending in the final two months of the budget year that ends June 30.