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La. Senate Finance Committee advances budget plan with deep cuts to TOPS and hospitals

Senate Finance Committee (Source: WAFB) Senate Finance Committee (Source: WAFB)
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

The Senate Finance Committee amended the state budget Monday, creating deep cuts to TOPS and partnership hospitals while fully funding the state’s health waiver program. 

"It does not get us to where I think we need to be. I think we have a good ways to go, but at least we were able to take care of the waivers and the elderly," said Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge. 

Under the committee’s plan, TOPS is funded at approximately 48 percent. That caused concern for several members of the panel, including Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, who said the cut gave her "heartburn." 

The House plan had TOPS funded at 75 percent. In order to do so, however, the plan diverted fees that people pay for services away from the agencies providing those services. The governor, as well as members of the Senate committee, did not believe that was constitutional, leading the Senate committee to ultimately scrap the diversion plan. 

As part of an apparent compromise Monday, the governor agreed to devote one-third of all money raised during a second special session to the scholarship program, according to Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte. That was comforting to some panel members, but not for all. 

"I just hope we don't find ourselves in a situation where by we raise just enough money to fund TOPS at the appropriate level that some individuals want it to be funded at, but then all of a sudden we come woefully short on all of these other issues that are important to the entire state," said Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans. 

For some senators, that includes the state’s partnerships hospitals that treat the uninsured. Under the Senate amendments, those hospitals would share a $60 million cut. 

Many other agencies would still face cuts as well, including the Department of Children and Family Services, higher education, and public safety. The Department of Health and Hospitals’ amoeba inspection program would also take a cut. 

One bright spot for many people in the committee room was the future of the state’s health service waivers, which among other things allow the elderly and disabled children to receive treatment at home rather than in an institution. A spokesman for the DHH said that the budget passed by the House would have forced them to eliminate five types of waivers altogether, which inspired emotional testimony in committee last week

"We're much more satisfied with the bill as it stands right now, it doesn't reflect what the governor would like to see for the people of Louisiana because there's still some gaping holes, but that's why there'll be a special session," said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne. 

The Senate committee also eliminated a House plan to give the attorney general his own separate budget, which supporters said would have allowed him more control over his finances. The governor, meanwhile, called it a power grab by the AG

The full Senate is expected to consider the budget starting Wednesday. 

Copyright 2016 WAFB. All rights reserved.

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