NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A Republican-controlled state house committee voted in favor of an alternate budget plan for the fiscal year that begins in July after not warming up to Democratic Gov.John Bel Edwards' budget proposal.
The GOP plan would fully fund the TOPS scholarship program at the expense of the Louisiana Health Department.
"Something bold has to be done to stabilize the state budget," Edwards said recently when he addressed state lawmakers on the opening day of the 2017 regular legislative session.
But Edwards' tax plan designed to get the state's budget on a sound footing has met a wall of opposition from house Republicans. So the GOP dominated House Appropriations Committee voted Monday to advance to the full state house its own spending plan for the upcoming budget year which runs from July 1 of 2017 to June 30, 2018.
The Republicans' plan would have the state spending hundreds of millions of dollars less than the state's Revenue Estimating Conference estimates the state will receive during the budget period. However, Republicans who proposed the plan are leaving it up to the Edwards administration and state agencies to determine where the budget cuts will fall, something the governor and his administration take issue with, as the governor has urged Republicans who refuse to embrace his proposals to spell out the cuts they want to happen instead.
"Tell us where you don't want to spend dollars and there won't be money spent there," said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne.
That comment prompted push back from some Republicans on the house committee.
"When I hear that it kind of gets me a little bit riled because that's what we're paying you to do," said Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria.
But the Democrats said pushing the tough decision of more budget cuts off on the administration is worrisome.
"I'm concerned that these amendments just drop all of this in your lap and say you figure it out," said Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.
"If I tell you where to cut then I'm micromanaging your budget and they're going to write 50 articles about that, and if I don't tell you where to cut then I'm being whatever, irresponsible and whatever the terminology we want to use and they're going to write 50 articles about that," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Henry believes spending just under 98 percent of the state general fund dollars for the new fiscal year makes sense in a financially state that repeatedly faces mid-year budget cuts.
But the governor's administration said the state cannot afford to do it now.
"We're reaching a point in time if we're not already there where death by a thousand cuts renders it impossible for departments of government to effectively provide services you expect and the people expect," said Dardenne.
Under the republican's proposed budget the state health department would see $155 million less in funds for the new budget year and a democratic state lawmaker said department officials have stated that, that would result in a $90 million dollar hit to dollar for private companies currently running state hospitals.
LCMC Health, the entity which runs the billion dollar University Medical Center in New Orleans issued the following statement.
"Protecting and prioritizing critically needed healthcare services and the hospital partners that provide them is essential. As a hospital partner, University Medical Center (UMC) fulfills a unique role that no other hospital can. We remain steadfast in our belief that UMC must be fully funded to best fulfill our teaching mission, continue to educate the next generation of healthcare professionals, provide high quality care with dignity and compassion to all of our patients and support our staff."
Additionally, an amendment passed to move an additional $82 million from the department of health and use it to fully fund the TOPS program which is funded at about 70-percent at the proposal put forth by the governor. In all, the cut to the health department would be nearly $240 million.
"We've made a bargain with our students that if you make the grades, the state will pay for your tuition,"
Said Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton who authored the amendment which passed out of the committee.