Some Louisiana Republicans in the legislature have growing concerns regarding a revenue forecast by contractor hired by Gov. Bobby Jindal to find cost-saving measures in order to streamline state government.
The forecast, which is headed by Alvarez & Marsal under a $5 million contract with Jindal, found that roughly $74 million can be saved from the almost $25 billion state budget via a list of somewhat random items, including closing Motor Vehicle offices and having hospitals use more midwives during pregnancies.
The contracted consultant firm forecasted next year’s annual state revenue assuming $54 million in additional government income, something House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) will not accept as fact.
Originally, during a Senate Finance Committee last week, Republican lawmakers had more questions for the Jindal administration and the revenue forecast than anything.
“It’s nice to hear the global overview, but I think the concern we have is, can it be implemented?” said Sen. Fred Mills, R-Breaux Bridge.
Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols defended the consultant’s hiring, saying the firm brought ideas from other states and national expertise. She said the work will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in savings over several years.
“It is actionable. It is real,” she said.
At the committee hearing, lawmakers began to criticize the cost-saving efforts proposed by the consulting firm and Jindal administration. Garnering the most criticism, a plan to save the state money $2 million by closing Motor Vehicle offices, including in Oakdale, Donaldsonville, Bunkie, Kenner, Westwego, Mandeville, West Monroe, Sulphur, Golden Meadow and Eunice.
And with that, Republican lawmakers from those areas, where Motor Vehicle offices would close, began to question the effort.
Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, said if the Golden Meadow office closes, the closest OMV location for area residents would be more than an hour away.
“I think we really need to rethink that,” he said.
Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, wanted more conversation about the closures.
“It’s still up for discussion,” Edmonson said.
Another cost-saving measure included a recommendation to close the ferry in Cameron Parish between 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. According to State Transportation Secretary Sherri LeBas, “only 33 vehicles on average use the ferry during those hours and her department could save $346,000 next year with the nighttime shutdown.”
But, Sen. Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles) too issue with the suggestion to close the ferry.
But Johns said the 120-mile detour has raised public safety concerns with the sheriff and could cause problems getting to the one hospital in the parish during an emergency.
“If there was an alternative route, that’s one thing. We’d certainly understand that. But there’s not. There is no other lifeline,” he said.
And then there are the most recent Republican concerns on the matter. Regarding the Jindal administration’s contract in general with the consulting firm, Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) said “I’m not impressed by the consultant’s contract.”
Just yesterday, Kleckley’s suspicion of the revenue forecast grew even more.
“The last thing I want to do is adopt a forecast that does not happen,” said Kleckley during a Monday (May 19) meeting to determine how much money that state has at its disposal next year.
Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert said one of the cost-saving efforts, to employ more midwives and doulas for pregnancies that are paid for with taxpayer dollars, would probably decrease the amount of cesarean sections that are performed in hospitals. Cesarean sections are generally more expensive for the state according to Kliebert.
This, too, came with some backlash from Republican lawmakers.
Still, Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington, R-Keithville, questioned whether Louisiana would be able to shift services to midwives easily. Among other concerns, the state doesn’t have more than a handful of certified midwives currently, she said.
Alvarez & Marsal were hired by Jindal to expose $500 million in cost-saving efforts and inefficiencies in the state government.