Health care for the poor, TOPS funding in peril in proposed budget

Health care for the poor, TOPS funding in peril in proposed budget

BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Governor Edwards said he had no choice but to propose a budget proposed for the new fiscal year that is filled with drastic cuts to state funded health care and higher education, which includes funding for the popular TOPS scholarship program.

The governor gave highlights of his budget proposal Monday before a packed legislative committee and audience.

The state is heading toward a billion dollar fiscal cliff due to a billion in temporary taxes which expire June 30th.

The governor's worst case scenario budget slashes 80-percent of TOPS funding.  He said it is not the budget he wants signed into law but his proposal is based on the projected revenues for the new budget year.

"We have approximately $3.4 billion of the state general fund that can actually be cut and as you know the two big pots of funding on that side of the discretionary state general fund ledger are higher education and health care…Therefore you're going to find drastic cuts to health care, corrections, higher education and yes TOPS," said the governor.

Edwards told members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget which includes house and senate members that he wants to have a special legislative session in February.

The legislative is barred from considering tax measures during regular sessions during even numbered years.

"We have to do it. We gave up our last chance last year on a fiscal session…Right now, if we have to go to a special session it's going to cost the taxpayers of this state over a million dollars and it's completely unnecessary because we could have done it last year," State Rep. Julie Stoles, R-Kenner.

Republicans control the House and Senate and some GOP House leaders accuse the governor of using budget "fear" statics.

"I think there's some hope there in his actual budget.  Members have to go through and see where he moved money around," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie who also serves as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

The governor challenged GOP state legislators who rejected his tax reform plan last year that was designed to erase the fiscal cliff to come up with specific cuts they favor to wipe out the gigantic shortfall.

"We can't sit here and honestly say that this problem can be solved simply by cutting. If that's what you believe I can respect it but stand up and show the people of La what you want to cut contrary to what some might say I'm not trying to use fear tactics, in fact none of these cuts should come as a shock to any of you," Gov. Edwards stated.

Rep. Cameron there are areas of state spending that remain bloated.

"When it comes to specific cuts let's look at our Medicaid program, we have the most generous Medicaid program in the country. I think that's one where we must, we have to reduce that," said Henry.

But some lawmakers said cutting a billion dollars is easier said than done and that options are scant.

"We've tried to do this the last 12 years even under Jindal to say there's secret fat in government we can to make govt whole without raising taxes and the reality is like I said we'll have the opportunity during regular session if we can cut our way out of this I will be very interested where they can find these cuts," said Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.

The senate president who is considered the dean of the legislature agrees is a special session is needed.

"I think a special session needs to be called to address these problems and we need let people know that everything is going to be okay in this colleges and universities and that health care will be provided to those of need," said Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego.

Sen. Morrell said he is not convinced a special session needs to be held in February.  He said some lawmakers think holding it after the regular sessions ends in early June may be better.