House committee strips $500M from budget
BATON ROUGE (AP) — The Louisiana House budget-writing committee Monday advanced a $24 billion spending plan for next year that could force steep cuts on colleges and health services, but few lawmakers expect it to resemble the final bill.
The Appropriations Committee stripped nearly $500 million in patchwork financing proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal from one-time land sales, legal settlements and fund sweeps to spend on ongoing expenses in the 2013-14 budget. The panel then voted 15-9 to move the reworked spending plan to the full House for debate.
The dollars would be removed in cuts of up to 20 percent to any agency that receives state general fund revenue. The biggest share of that funding goes to higher education and the state health department.
But the cuts were part of a larger strategy to maneuver the budget through procedural hurdles that could be used by conservative House Republicans to stall the legislation. They don’t necessarily reflect lawmakers’ support for slashing the budget.
House leaders wanted to remove the patchwork funding so they could get the budget through the House and to then reinstate some of the money in the Senate.
Two-thirds support of House members is needed to debate and pass a budget proposal that seeks to use “one-time” sources of money to pay for ongoing programs and services. Without the piecemeal funding, the budget won’t require the two-thirds vote that could be used to cause a stalemate on the House floor.
“It’s all about hearing the bill. It’s not what I wanted,” said Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro.
The House will consider the budget May 9.
Fannin and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, are hoping the House will pass the budget and the Senate will reverse at least some of the proposed cuts. The Senate doesn’t have a similar vote requirement for considering the patchwork funding.
As they stripped the one-time dollars, Appropriations Committee members also removed $19 million that had been slated to pay for agencies to fill vacant jobs.
That money was used to reverse Jindal’s proposed cuts to shelters for domestic violence victims, a breast and cervical cancer screening program, children’s immunizations at parish health centers and a program that helps elderly citizens apply for and learn about programs that offer rebates and discounts on medications, called SenioRx.
But the implications of the larger, nearly $500 million cut remained unclear. House budget analysts were trying to determine Monday how deep the reductions would be to public colleges and health care services.
Conservative House Republicans, nicknamed the “fiscal hawks,” say the patchwork budgeting causes repeated cycles of financial problems, leaving lawmakers to scramble to fill gaps when the dollars fall away.
Supporters of the one-time funding, including the Jindal administration, say without those dollars, critical services face unnecessary slashing. Jindal’s chief budget architect, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, said she is confident the dollars will pan out as expected and wouldn’t force midyear budget cuts.
“We’ve done the hard work of reducing the size and cost of government, but we don’t think it makes sense to make deeper cuts to health care and higher education that are not necessary,” Nichols told the committee.
Some of the fiscal hawks are working on an alternate set of budget cut proposals, but they haven’t unveiled any recommendations publicly.
Meanwhile, some Democrats are trying to negotiate with the fiscal hawks on a compromise, to shrink existing tax breaks to drum up new cash. That could run into trouble with Jindal, who has threatened a veto of any bills that raise new tax dollars for the state.