BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Republican lawmakers unraveling the details of Gov. John Bel Edwards' deficit-closing proposal said Tuesday they were concerned it contains too many short-term fixes and too few long-term cuts.
Edwards' plan, released a day earlier, recommends cutting about $60 million in state agencies and using more than $240 million in reserves and other financing to close the $304 million deficit for the budget year that ends June 30.
Lawmakers will consider the proposal in a 10-day special session that begins Monday, called by the Democratic governor to rebalance the budget.
REPUBLICANS WANT MORE CUTS
Rep. Lance Harris, leader of the House GOP delegation, said the state needs to cut its spending more deeply to compensate for economic declines across Louisiana, rather than patch its way through another budget year.
"To me, all we're doing is kicking the can into next year again (with Edwards' plan)," Harris said. "You're perpetuating the overspending."
Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, said the cuts in Edwards' plan appeared to be "minimal." He questioned whether they would represent permanent savings to the $27 billion operating budget or short-term reductions like delaying hiring plans.
Edwards described the approach as responsible financial management, until the state can make long-term changes in its budget and tax structure in the regular legislative session that begins in April.
"To force cuts at this point in time, with this little time left in the fiscal year is very difficult for agencies to do, especially when heaped on previous cuts," said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Edwards' chief budget adviser.
The governor's plan would use more than $119 million from Louisiana's "rainy day" fund and another $120 million in patchwork financing, dollars from better-than-expected tax and fee collections and other financing sources to fill gaps, rather than make cuts.
Colleges, prisons, K-12 public schools and the state child welfare agency would be protected.
Of the spending reductions, cuts would hit the privatized charity hospital services. Money would be stripped from medical training programs. Caseloads would be increased for probation and parole officers in the Office of Juvenile Justice. A dental services program would be eliminated in New Orleans.
Planned road work wouldn't happen this year. Spending on outreach services for the homeless would be trimmed. Vacant jobs wouldn't be filled. Dollars planned for supplies, travel and equipment would be cut. Marketing plans and contracts in the state's economic development agency would be reduced.
Dardenne said some cuts would be permanent, offering long-term savings in later years, but others are only planned as temporary.
RAINY DAY FUND
Whether to use the rainy day fund is shaping up to be the key debate of the session, requiring support from two-thirds of the House and Senate to tap into the savings account.
The fund topped $853 million eight years ago, but lawmakers siphoned off money from the fund repeatedly at the request of former Gov. Bobby Jindal to lessen budget gaps.
Now, some lawmakers — particularly Republicans in the House — say they've used the savings account too much and want to enact permanent changes to stabilize the state budget.
"Until I see real cuts, I'm a no" vote on the rainy day fund, McFarland said.
Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, also isn't convinced the savings account should be used.
"I don't like the Band-Aid approach," she said. "Never say never, but at this point, I just don't see it."
State senators seem more open to the idea.
"I anticipate that we'll approve the whole thing, and then maybe the House will do something different," said Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte.
Dardenne said if lawmakers don't want to use the rainy day fund, they need to devise a list of cuts. He believes they're going to have a hard time coming up with it.
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Posted on Fri, February 10, 2017
by By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press