BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards'
administration presented its doomsday budget to lawmakers Saturday, showing the
widespread cuts that would be levied across public colleges and health care
services without new money for the state treasury.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said the
slashing needed to balance next year's budget would be "disastrous"
if Louisiana cuts more than $2 billion in state financing to close its budget
gap, rather than raise taxes as Edwards wants.
The presentation came on the eve of a special
legislative session beginning Sunday in which the Democratic governor wants
lawmakers to boost taxes to avoid the cuts next year, as well as to help
rebalance this year's budget.
"This is now the wake-up call, the reality, the
alarm sounding," Dardenne, the governor's chief financial adviser, told
the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.
Without more money next year, the public school
financing formula would be shielded from reductions in the 2016-17 fiscal year
that begins July 1, but nearly every state agency would take hefty cuts under
Edwards' budget proposal.
Public colleges would lose $180 million in state
financing, about 24 percent of the money they receive from the state. In
addition, the TOPS free college tuition program would get $233 million less,
leaving it with only about one-fifth the money needed to cover all students
expected to be eligible to receive the aid.
Health care would take deep hits, losing nearly $800
million in state financing, a cut that would grow to $1.9 billion with the loss
of federal matching dollars, according to the Edwards administration. That type
of reduction would force closures of health services and programs on which the
poor, elderly and disabled rely.
Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, described the cuts
as unrealistic, saying many state agencies have been forced repeatedly to
shrink spending over the last eight years of budget gaps.
"I don't see how we could survive and render any
services to our citizens," she said.
Even with the cuts, however, the state health
department's budget would grow because of the influx of $1.7 billion in federal
money to pay for the expansion of Louisiana's Medicaid program. Edwards wants
the new coverage for the working poor to take effect July 1, saying the
expansion would help the state save money in other health care areas.
Next year's budget proposal was due to lawmakers
Saturday under state law.
In a letter accompanying the proposal, Edwards
stressed he didn't want to make the types of cuts included in the document. But
he said Louisiana doesn't have "adequate state financial resources to
properly fund the government services Louisiana residents expect and depend
upon" without new tax revenue.
"This is NOT the budget I want passed but the
budget I must submit to you based on my constitutional obligation to submit a
balanced budget. To do otherwise would be dishonest about the state of
Louisiana's financial condition," he said in the letter.
Republicans have shown resistance to tax hikes,
including in Saturday's meeting.
Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, said he doesn't want
to boost taxes "unless I don't have any other choice." He said
government should be made more efficient first and costs should be controlled.
"I will tell you honestly that most people want
us to live within our means," he said. "Most taxpayers in this state
do not have confidence in our government that we're spending money wisely and
that we're doing what we're supposed to be doing."
Ahead of tackling next year's problem, Edwards and
lawmakers must rebalance this year's budget before the fiscal year ends June
30. The governor is proposing a mix of cuts, short-term fixes and tax increases
to close a gap that ranges from $850 million to $950 million.
If lawmakers refuse to raise taxes, Edwards has said
the short-term cuts could force college campuses to close mid-semester, shutter
hospitals and damage health programs for the poor.
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights
reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or
Posted on Sun, February 14, 2016
by MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press