state budget

One component of the Jindal administration’s 2016 budget proposal, revealed Friday, involves holding the line on spending in the public-private hospital partnerships. The private partners in the LSU hospital deals had asked for an additional $142-million in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

“What we funded these hospitals for was level funding, effectively,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols detailed to the Joint Budget Committee. “And some of the hospitals are projecting growth above level funding. That’s the point of discussion that we are going to have to work through in this process.”

The Jindal administration unveils its budget proposal today for the next fiscal year. What solutions to the $1.6-billion deficit will be proposed?

“Until we see it, we don’t really know,” says Lafayette Rep. Joel Robideaux.

Even House Speaker Chuck Kleckley admits he has been kept in the dark.

“I know nothing,” Kleckley told us earlier this week. “I don’t know anything more than you know, or what I read in the press.”

“It’s horrible. It’s as bad as we’ve seen, for sure.”

Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, says the budget cuts looming ahead for Louisiana’s public colleges and universities are nothing short of brutal.

“We’re talking about three, four, five hundred million—they’re saying—in one year? That is an insurmountable obstacle for these schools.”

Erwin attended Monday’s meeting between governing board members for all of the state’s higher education systems, and some influential lawmakers. With the governor’s budget proposal due to be unveiled Friday, all are asking the same question: How bad will it be?

State lawmakers refused to approve part of the Jindal administration’s plan for balancing the current budget Friday, making it clear they’re fed up with sweeps of dedicated funds.

“Somebody, sooner or later, has got to stand up and say we’ve got to stop this,” Sen. Robert Adley of Benton remonstrated with the Joint Budget Committee and representatives of the Division of Administration.

Adley, a Republican, chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, and he took great issue with part of the budget-balancing plan to grab $6-million from gasoline taxes — which are dedicated to building and maintaining roads — and shuffle that money to State Police.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee meets today to vote on the governor’s plan for slicing $103-million from current year spending.

“These mid-year cuts are critical,” House Speaker Chuck Kleckley says of the painful necessity.

State officials have been burning up the phone lines between Baton Rouge and New York City this week, trying to stave off the threatened downgrade of Louisiana’s credit rating. State Treasurer John Kennedy says it’s been intense.

“We’re in trouble. I don’t want to overstate that, but I don’t want to sugarcoat it, either,” Kennedy says. “We’re in trouble with two of the three rating agencies. Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have told us unless we get our fiscal affairs in order, they’re going to downgrade us.”

Statewide elected officials believe the Jindal administration’s budget ax must have become dull from overuse, since the latest round of proposed cuts are far from even.

“The cuts seem to be disproportionate,” Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne observes.

Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain says the mid-year budget cuts proposed last week by the Jindal administration could end up costing you more at the grocery store and elsewhere.

“You know, if we downsize in meat inspection, that means plants will close,” Strain warns. And meat prices will go up.

The Department of Agriculture has been told to cut $2.6-million from its spending between now and June 30, and Strain says that means he will have no choice but to reduce the number of inspectors his department employs.

 Since it’s an election year, it’s highly unlikely that lawmakers will risk the wrath of voters or the governor by raising taxes to fill Louisiana’s $1.6-billion budget hole. But they will almost certainly be taking a hard look at state tax breaks to bridge the budget gap.

Finding the way down off the fiscal cliff could be as simple as turning around, and looking back at the path that brought us here.

“The root of our current budget problems goes back to the decision in 2008, under Gov. Jindal, to repeal the Stelly tax changes that voters passed in 2002,” says Louisiana Budget Project director Jan Moller. “That has taken about six to seven hundred million dollars our of our tax base every year.”