Gov. Edwards specifies $792 million in cuts

Gov. Edwards specifies $792 million in cuts

BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - State officials say four hospitals of last resort could close under a dire budget plan outlined by the governor Tuesday. The cuts would also severely impact TOPS, higher education and grades kindergarten through 12.

Lawmakers are already looking at alternatives.

"I wish I had better news. I don't. We're going to live in the real world," said Gov. John Bel Edwards as he addressed the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday morning.

Edwards said he inherited a budget that was $2 billion shy of what's needed for the coming year, but thanks to the work of the special session, he laid out a new plan to balance the budget that's slightly less painful.

"At the end of the day with this proposal, we're cutting $792 million," said Edwards.

The governor's current plan leaves four hospitals of last resort in Houma, Bogalusa, Lake Charles and Alexandria without state funding, and they may close.

"If they don't get money that will happen, but I am working very hard to find other ways to fund them," said Edwards.

The governor also calls for $183 million in cuts to the TOPS program,  and $50 million in cuts in K through 12 education.

"There is no way to fully fund TOPS given shortages in K thru 12 and safety net hospitals," said Edwards.

Higher education is proposed to take another cut, this time of $46 million.

"They're going to fall directly on classrooms. This is the largest disinvestment in higher ed in the country," said Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.

The threat of cuts to hospitals and higher education prompted some early pushback from the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. In spite of possible hospital closures, funding remains intact for public defenders and the ethics commission.

"It's nothing against the Ethics Board, but I guess it doesn't make a difference. But if we're not going to lay off 10 people because of ethics, but we're going to close hospitals," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.

"You're going to find that's not going to be enough to make a change in what we're recommending," said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne.

The governor said he will likely call lawmakers back into a third session this year on June 7.

"I'm asking them to be patient and work with us. There is another special session coming," said Edwards.

"It's essential it must happen. There's no other way to fill up all the holes," said Leger.

Without new revenue, the future looks grim for many state agencies in the fiscal year ahead. The legislature faces a $7.3 million cut under the latest budget plan. The governor's proposal, however, leaves mental health advocacy, military affairs and veterans affairs programs intact.

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