Jindal angles to reverse budget cuts

Published 10:49 pm Monday, May 30, 2011

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration tried Monday to persuade senators to reverse a series of House-backed cuts to next year’s $25 billion budget, saying the cuts would have dire consequences: prisoners released from jail, emergencies left unattended and health care services shuttered.

Jindal wants the Senate Finance Committee to restore more than $200 million in state spending to the 2011-12 budget, money stripped by the House to lessen the use of one-time dollars for ongoing expenses and to remove “contingency” dollars tied to separate legislation that has yet to pass.

The governor’s top financial adviser, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, pitched the Jindal budget recommendations to the senators as a “more prudent, balanced, deliberative approach” than the House budget.

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Jindal’s budget proposed to close a more than $1 billion budget gap with a mix of cuts, one-time patches and a boost in certain types of federal funding. The governor’s budget office provided little information about those reductions, calling them efficiencies, “transformational reforms” and agency redesigns.

Meanwhile, Rainwater described House-backed cuts as deep and damaging to critical health care, education and public safety programs.

“The biggest difference is we worked with agencies for almost a year to develop a budget that makes sense,” Rainwater told senators. “The House didn’t ask agencies where they could take their cut.”

Sen. Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport, suggested the Jindal administration wasn’t offering enough information about its original planned cuts before the House reductions. Jackson questioned why the administration could propose millions more in cuts than the House and describe them as “efficiencies” when it frames the House cuts as devastating.

“You had us falling off an $850 million mountain. I’m not sure that the $120 million hill we’re falling off with the House is any worse,” Jackson said.

Advocacy groups told senators the House cuts would force some foster parents to return children to state care, harm mental health services, reduce investigations of elderly abuse and shrink programs that enable people with developmental disabilities to stay at home or in their communities.

“We saw cuts that the administration submitted as mostly strategic,” said Kay Marcel, of New Iberia, an outspoken advocate for the developmentally disabled whose son uses state services. “The House cuts are draconian, in my opinion.”

Peggy Kirby, president of the Louisiana Foster and Adoptive Parents Association, said the state’s social services department is proposing to eliminate services for foster parents including transportation and day care programs, to cope with a cut included in the House budget plan.

“I’ve been a foster parent for more than 20 years,” said Kirby, of West Monroe. “I won’t be able to continue with the cuts proposed for these support services.”

House leaders have said the Jindal administration and its cabinet secretaries are exaggerating the impact of the reductions and want to spend more money than the state can afford.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, has said if cuts that don’t top 5 percent are devastating to agencies, those agencies should get new leaders.

The House eliminated $59 million across agencies for travel, supplies and operating expenses; $37 million for a once-a-decade extra pay period for state workers; $11 million from the state-run Recovery School District and $93 million from the health department.

House leaders said the cuts were made because of uncertainty whether lawmakers will approve Jindal-backed proposals to sell three state prisons, boost retirement costs for state employees and redirect a stream of tobacco settlement money to the state’s free college tuition program. Also, the House enacted new restrictions on using one-time money for continuing operations.

Rainwater described many of the House reductions as “one-size-fits-all cuts” that didn’t consider individual agency missions. He said they limit the use of money that could protect higher education, health care and other areas. He noted the House approved contingency funding only two years earlier.

Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, questioned whether the use of the one-time money would only cause continued budget shortfalls a year later.

Health care would sustain some of the biggest reductions proposed by the House.

The House budget includes $122 million less in state general fund dollars for the Department of Health and Hospitals than Jindal recommended. DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein said with lost federal matching money, the spending plan would strip more than $300 million from health services.

Greenstein said that will shrink payments to hospitals, doctors and others who care for Medicaid patients, likely pushing some health care providers out of the program entirely.

“At this level of cuts, we lose the credibility of our Medicaid program. We lose some of our providers,” Greenstein said.



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