We’ll try not to give you more than you can handle here. After all, the mind-blowing revelation that Louisiana could find $70 million in savings out of a $25 billion budget to close an end-of-year shortfall could easily be too much for people who took him at his word that if he had to cut the state’s budget there would be developmentally disabled kids abandoned in the marshlands and college football wouldn’t survive.
And yet when the state legislature fell short of raising enough in taxes to cover the budget shortfall at the end of the special session, after castigating them as incompetent and irresponsible John Bel Edwards found himself charged with actually doing his job.
With his back to the wall, and out of opportunities to play Emotional Terrorist for the cameras, Edwards was actually able to do it.
Louisiana’s upcoming round of $70 million in midyear budget cuts won’t hit higher education at all or health care services as severely as some originally thought.
Gov. John Bel Edwards‘ administration announced Thursday (March 24) that Louisiana’s colleges and universities would be spared from this round of reductions. Hospitals and other health care services will absorb all of the midyear cuts. All budget reductions have to go into effect before June 30, the end of the state’s fiscal cycle.
The Edwards administration was able to avoid reductions to higher education because it found $40 million in spare cash in the Department of Health and Hospitals.
Go figure. All this time he was talking about having to kill summer school at the state’s public colleges for lack of money and there was $40 million just sitting there. Nobody knew it was there until taxes couldn’t be raised anymore.
Not all of the state health care programs have been used as much as originally anticipated, which meant cash is available, according to the Edwards administration. For example, Louisiana’s flu season wasn’t as bad as anticipated, so money set aside for flu treatment hadn’t been used up yet. This money is now being put toward the budget gap.
But despite that found cash, the governor still had to cut about $30 million from health care overall to close this year’s budget gap. These cuts include reductions to programs like pediatric day care centers and hospitals that serve the poor and uninsured.
Public-private hospitals, the ones which used to be the Charity Hospitals but have been privatized, took a 1.5 percent haircut.
And here’s something fun…
Alario said Edwards briefed him on how the $70 million gap would be dealt with ahead of time, but House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, said he hadn’t been consulted about the reductions before their release Thursday.
“I have not seen anything in particular yet,” Barras said Thursday afternoon, a couple of hours before the cuts were released.
So John Alario, the faux-Republican Senate president serving as Edwards’ poodle in the legislature, knew in advance the governor had the ability to make cuts that weren’t catastrophic to anybody, but Taylor Barras, the actual Republican House Speaker who isn’t on board his team, wasn’t told a thing.
You don’t even need a triple-figure IQ to know why. Had Barras known Edwards could manage a $70 million cut – or, put more succinctly, had he known Edwards had a specific plan to do so already in place – he would have publicly pushed back on the governor’s grandstanding about doomsday scenarios and budgetary calamities.
Seeing as though it was always cow dung.
So now the Legislature supposedly has $750 million they’ll need to cut in order to balance the budget in this session, and if they aren’t able to do that Edwards will call yet another special session to raise taxes again. We already know he’s capable of vetoing budget cuts, so anything that passes the House and Senate which would alter the status quo with respect to the size and scope of state government is likely to fall by the wayside (in reality it’s unlikely Alario’s Senate would even pass such bills).
But Edwards is going to have a lot harder time doing the I Must Raise Your Taxes Or All The Children Will Die routine in advance of his next tax-raising session. He’s already proven that even he is capable of finding fat in the state budget when he has to. And if the House leadership is smart, they’ll bank this lesson and call Edwards’ bluff.