The Louisiana Department of Health’s budget is TWO BILLION DOLLARS larger than it was before Gov. John Bel Edwards took office and brought Rebekah Gee on board with him as the department’s secretary.
Tuesday was public testimony day in the Appropriations Committee, when the general public gets its turn to talk about where it would like to see the state’s dollars spent in next year’s nearly $29 billion operating budget, for the financial year that begins July 1.
With tearful stories, people sought boosted financing for health programs for the elderly and disabled. They asked for more dollars for rural hospitals. They requested increased staffing at state facilities that care for people with disabilities and mental health problems.
But with the tight state budget and House Republican leaders resistant to the tax hikes proposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, it’s unclear how much success the requests will have.
Families in yellow shirts bearing the words “We’ve Waited Long Enough!” asked for dollars to help parents waiting for home- and community-based services for children with disabilities.
Bryan and Cindy Kutz, who live in Zachary, received six months of state assistance that helped give them a few hours of “respite care” from the constant monitoring of their 15-year-old son Blaine, only to see the help yanked away amid budget constraints.
“So, we have nothing,” Cindy Kutz told the committee.
Kutz’s son has Alfi’s syndrome, a rare chromosomal disorder that causes both mental and physical impairments. Cindy Kutz described her son having “meltdowns” in which he runs into windows, doors and walls — and doesn’t feel the pain of the tantrums.
“A simple outing to a movie or to a store requires both my husband and I to manage Blaine,” Cindy Kutz said.
The parents asked for more dollars for local human services districts that provide the services they had and lost. Sandee Winchell, executive director of the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council, said the districts are not equitably funded.
“It matters where you live, and that shouldn’t be the case with a state program,” she said.
In other words, the money the legislature is appropriating for LDH isn’t being used wisely. The department has FOURTEEN BILLION DOLLARS and yet the kids with developmental disabilities and trach tubes and so on can’t get enough state funding.
Somehow this means Louisiana’s taxpayers aren’t coughing up enough money, and it’s Republican legislators’ fault.
Several Republicans on the committee suggested the more than $14 billion budget planned for the Department of Health should be enough to pay for the families’ requests.
Rep. Tony Bacala, a Prairieville Republican, said the agency needs to spend dollars more wisely. Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, a Republican from Metairie, said some dollars allocated to unfilled jobs could be spent instead on services for people with disabilities.
“The money’s there if they choose to do it,” Henry said.
We talk over and over here at The Hayride about the Washington Monument Strategy, in which dishonest politicians do everything they can to hang the most sympathetic recipients of government dollars out more or less as hostages in an effort to browbeat the public into paying more taxes. John Bel Edwards and his team have in a very short period of time become Louisiana’s foremost practitioners of this atrocious tactic. Edwards set the tone at the beginning of his time as governor by threatening to shut down college football in Louisiana, along with more implicit threats to feed developmentally disabled kids to the alligators in the Henderson Swamp, or something, if he didn’t get massive tax increases.
Well, he got them. The legislature agreed to give him some $2 billion in tax increases and now Louisiana has the highest sales taxes, if you combine state and local sales taxes, in America.
And yet there are still people in yellow t-shirts telling horror stories at the House Appropriations Committee because the government can’t address their needs.
That sure looks like failure to us. It looks like a governor whose fiscal management of the state budget makes Bobby Jindal look like Calvin Coolidge. And it looks like an LDH secretary whose job performance borders on the criminal.
Where is John Bel Edwards’ accountability? Where is Rebekah Gee’s? We’re told she will no longer testify in front of the House Appropriations Committee; we sure hope that isn’t true. Because Gee ought to explain why there are dozens of supplicants in yellow t-shirts at the state legislature begging for money they ought to already have if she’s got FOURTEEN BILLION DOLLARS to spend on health care for a state with only 4.5 million people in it.
No, these people don’t need any more of your money. If they weren’t beyond shame they would never be asking for another cent.