Federal money spares TOPS, most state services from deep cuts in Edwards’ new budget proposal

Federal money spares TOPS, most state services from deep cuts in Edwards’ new budget proposal
The TOPS scholarship program, K-12 schools, and the Department of Children and Family Services are spared cuts under Gov. John Bel Edwards’ latest budget proposal, despite a nearly billion-dollar revenue shortfall. (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The TOPS scholarship program, K-12 schools, and the Department of Children and Family Services are spared cuts under Gov. John Bel Edwards’ latest budget proposal, despite a nearly billion-dollar revenue shortfall.

Federal CARES Act money would cover most of the budget hole, though lawmakers will have to trim about $80 million from the budget and withdraw $90 million from the state’s rainy day fund to balance the books. Most state agencies, including the Department of Corrections, will receive a 2 percent reduction.

“It’s (a budget) that I believe is responsible. It’s prudent," Edwards said. "It’s about the best I think you can do under the circumstances.”

Edwards would cut colleges by about $22 million, and the Department of Health would lose about $18 million.

“It’s going to be a significant reduction that, in a time of uncertainty, they’ll have to deal with. It’s what we’ve got to do.” the state’s chief financial officer, Jay Dardenne, said. “We knew there were going to be cuts. We tried to minimize them based on the legitimate use of the CARES Act dollars and that’s why we’re not making a billion dollars-worth of cuts.”

The federal government will also cover more of the state’s Medicaid costs, unrelated to the Coronavirus pandemic, beginning next year. That will free up roughly $200 million the state can use to spend elsewhere.

The House’s budget committee chose to delay debate on the latest spending proposal, so Dardenne will officially present the budget later this week. He said the slower pace will likely preclude lawmakers from passing the budget before the end of the session at the end of the month.

“It looks more and more like we may be back in June,” Dardenne said, referring to the likelihood of a special legislative session.

A number of plans to cut taxes and limit spending are breezing through the capitol. Deeper cuts to state agencies would be necessary if they pass.

“If we want to reduce the revenue flow and only spend 98 percent of the budget, then Legislature, tell the people of this state where you want to cut and where you don’t want to spend money,” Dardenne said.

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