“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Matthew 25:40 (NIV)
You can’t read about recent state budget vetoes by Gov. Bobby Jindal without that Scripture from the Bible popping into your head. However, the blame for cuts in state health care services doesn’t just lie with the governor. Legislators failed to provide sufficient funding to meet all of the state’s needs, and left Jindal with the task of deciding where to make $46 million in cuts.
Nearly half of the governor’s 31 line-item vetoes eliminated funding that legislators wanted to use for programs that help people with disabilities.
Most disappointing of all the vetoes was one that removed $4 million added to the budget to provide more at-home services for the developmentally disabled. Those funds would have given help to 200 more people who are on a waiting list totaling 10,000.
Jindal defended the reduction, saying there wasn’t enough money in the budget to pay for an expected increase in the cost of Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor. The governor said 2,800 more people with developmental disabilities have been helped since he took office in 2008. He added that no one currently receiving help will be impacted by his veto.
An individual and family support program that provides state funding for home-based care or medical equipment was cut by $950,000.
The governor cut $793,935 that would have continued funding for a program that pairs disabled children with medical teams. The affected children live in Lake Charles, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Hammond.
The Louisiana Assistive Technology Access Network was cut $250,000 by another veto. Officials with LATAN said that represents 35 percent of its annual budget. Its state funding has dwindled from $600,000 in fiscal year 2007-08 to $250,000 by the 2010-11 fiscal year.
The Advocate explained what LATAN means to those it helps. It wrote about Mike Futrell of Baton Rouge, who started losing his eyesight a decade ago. He visited the organization and discovered tools that help him write checks and shop online.
“You can come and look at this stuff before you invest in it,” Futrell said. “You don’t want to make a $2,200 mistake. All that stuff is pricey.” He added, “All of a sudden, I can read again. It keeps you independent.”
Legislative budget committees receive public testimony every year. Lawmakers were obviously touched by the comments they heard from people who can’t entirely take care of themselves and from families trying to cope with disabled children.
The feedback over the vetoes has been intense, and some legislators are asking for a veto session. Those who speak for the disabled want the same thing. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening are slim. There have been no veto sessions since the new state constitution took effect at midnight on Dec. 31, 1974. Two vetoes have been overridden while lawmakers were still in session.
In defense of the Legislature, it has to be noted that its members are operating under some severe revenue restraints laid down by Gov. Jindal. He is adamantly opposed to new taxes, a stand with which many taxpayers agree. And he insists that any tax breaks, credits, rebates or exemptions that are eliminated have to be given to others. He said he would veto any that increased state revenues.
So how do you raise funds that can help the disadvantaged and the disabled? You can cut the budget, and that has been done — severely, in some cases. However, many legislators say the only practical solution is to increase revenues, and one way that can be done without new taxes is by eliminating unproductive tax breaks.
A reader of the Advocate offered a solution.
“We give millions to the film industry, and the IBM deal in Baton Rouge gives about $78 million in state funds and a private foundation ends up owning the land and the new building and also getting about $500,000 a year for lease cost payments. And people can’t figure out why the state needs more money…,” the reader said.
Jindal removed language from the budget requiring the state Department of Education to cut its contracts by $2 million. He also stripped an effort to redirect $2 million from a state economic development fund to other budget items.
Size it up anyway you want, but it all comes down to priorities. Maybe those who make government decisions in Baton Rouge should read or re-read the preamble to the state constitution. Here it is:
“We, the people of Louisiana, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political, economic, and religious liberties we enjoy, and desiring to protect individual rights to life, liberty, and property; afford opportunity for the fullest development of the individual; assure equality of rights; promote the health, safety, education, and welfare of the people; maintain a representative and orderly government; ensure domestic tranquility; provide for the common defense; and secure the blessings of freedom and justice to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution.”
Isn’t to “promote the health, safety, education and welfare of the people” pretty much what that biblical Scripture from Matthew is all about?