Jindal hopes Senate will reverse budget cuts

Published 11:26 pm Friday, May 27, 2011

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal is looking to the Louisiana Senate to rework next year’s budget, hoping his agency chiefs can persuade senators to reverse more than $230 million in state funding cuts recommended by the House.

The House limited the use of one-time money to pay for ongoing operating expenses in the 2011-12 budget and stripped out other dollars tied to Jindal-backed legislation that has yet to pass.

Jindal said Friday that those cuts for the fiscal year that begins July 1 could damage public safety, health services and education programs. He said it doesn’t make sense to make reductions when available dollars could be used to provide services.

Email newsletter signup

“It would be foolish for us to be cutting health care, educational and other critical services when we have the money in hand,” the governor said in a sit-down interview with reporters.

The Senate Finance Committee begins its budget hearings Monday.

House leaders say the state must learn to live within its annual revenues and stop relying on patchwork funding to piece together spending plans.

House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, and Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, have said the administration is exaggerating the consequences of the reductions, and they’ve called their cuts responsible and based on close review of Jindal’s recommendations.

For example, Fannin said it’s absurd for the governor’s office to say five state prisons would be forced to shut down and some inmates released because of the cut proposed by the House.

He said the reduction proposed by the House to the corrections department was no more than 5 percent.

“If I’m a bank board and I tell my CEO that out of my branch banks out here, I want y’all to go and cut 5 percent, and he tells me he can’t do it and, ‘You’re going to have to close it down,’ what am I going to do with that CEO? Find me a new one,” Fannin said.

Jindal has criticized the Appropriations Committee for making a series of cuts to his spending plans in four minutes, without asking any of his cabinet secretaries to explain how those cuts would affect their programs.

Those secretaries and the people who rely on those agencies for services will now have the ability to describe their concerns about the cuts to senators as the Finance Committee spends the coming days combing through the House proposals and Jindal’s recommendations.

“I just want to make sure there’s a full open discussion and honest debate about the consequences of the cuts that are proposed,” Jindal said. He added, “I think it’s a reasonable debate to have in the Senate. Should they cut health care, should they cut public safety, should they cut education when there’s still money they could spend to protect those services?”

Among the biggest disagreements — and the deepest cuts made by the House — center on health care.

The House budget includes $122 million less in state general fund dollars for the Department of Health and Hospitals than what Jindal recommended. DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein said with lost federal matching money, the spending plan would strip nearly $305 million to health services, including mental health care and programs for the disabled, poor and elderly.

Fannin said most of the dollars would be removed from the start of a new program shifting Medicaid to a managed-care model, suggesting the program expansion could be delayed without damaging services.

Jindal said that’s not the case. He said cuts made by the House will remove money to pay doctors, private hospitals and nursing homes that care for Medicaid patients, whether they’re in a managed-care program or not.

Before its debate on the budget this week, the House enacted a new two-thirds voting hurdle proposed by Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, for spending certain types of one-time money. The change forced deeper cuts to next year’s budget.

Jindal said he opposed the rule and backs its reversal. Tucker wants to keep the rule in place, saying it instills fiscal discipline.



The budget bill is filed as House Bill 1 and can be found at www.legis.state.la.us