UPDATE: They’re On The Louisiana House Floor Debating The Budget Today…

…and we’ll be updating this post as the results come in. The budget, which came out of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday balanced without the need for tax increases and with full funding for the TOPS program, is being beset by amendments from Democrats at present.

The number one talking point being used in the attempts to defeat the budget is the accusation that its cuts to the Louisiana Department of Health would result in the dissolution of the public-private partnerships currently administering the hospitals which used to be part of the old Charity system. That’s something which is an old saw – the private partners in those deals have as a standing threat that they’ll pull out of the partnerships if there are any funding cuts.

And this is going to happen at more or less all of the old Charity Hospitals except the one in Houma, which gets local funding.

Louisiana is the only state with these state-funded hospitals all over the place. Everywhere else, the public hospitals are local institutions and not state institutions. The business model for public hospitals whose patients almost unanimously do not have private insurance doesn’t exist elsewhere; it’s a leftover from the Huey Long socialist history of Louisiana and with changes to federal policy it’s totally unsustainable. The public-private partnerships in place now were an attempt at a transition out of the Longite Charity model, and they’re expensive – too expensive, it appears, for the state’s current budget to cover.

The smart decision, obviously, would be to unload those hospitals to the private sector outright, or close them other than in the case of the ones in New Orleans or Shreveport which are attached to medical schools. But that’s not what Louisiana’s Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to do. What he’d much rather do is reclaim the Charity hospitals for the state and reinstitute the Longite socialist model – and then demand tax increases to cover them.

From one member of the House Appropriations Committee about this mess: “Expanding Medicaid in the middle of this transition AND while we were already facing a budget crisis in the middle of an academic downturn was a foolish move.”

And from that same House member: “So here we are. We have a Republican majority in an independent House with a Senate that is sympathetic to a hostile administration. And even some of the Republicans’ hands are tied on the public-private partnership issues because they have those hospitals in their own districts so they cannot negotiation when the private partners threaten [to pull out] – because it might be political suicide since the public only gets to hear the Governor-affirming mainstream media.”

We’re also hearing that Edwards has been very busy since the budget came out of the Appropriations Committee, in meetings with agency heads telling them that if this budget, which let’s remember is balanced, were to pass it means those agencies’ critical needs won’t be funded. Edwards told sheriffs around the state that the state won’t be providing funding for them to house state prisoners in their jails, that there won’t be any money for NOW waivers for the developmentally disabled kids, that there won’t be any funding for the state’s Councils on Aging, that nursing homes will close, and so on.

The effect of that has been phone calls to House members screaming that to pass the budget would be to destroy Louisiana. And that’s why the vote on this budget – which again is balanced without a tax increase – in a Republican legislature will be tight.

As Louisiana GOP chairman Louis Gurvich noted, this is all negotiation just like it would be if instead of the state budget we were talking about a settlement in a personal injury case from Edwards’ previous career as a trial lawyer. Demand twice as much as you’ll accept and attack the other side with hyperbole and invective, so you can get both a victory and look magnanimous in the process.

Our friend in the House had a little more to say: “If we fail to pass HB1 before the regular session ends, then we go into special session to try to pass in 14 days what we couldn’t pass in months. But that’s OK with the Governor because then he gets to bash us more. Instead of saying we passed a budget with components he couldn’t support, he gets to say “They didn’t do their job.”

“So Edwards not only failed to do HIS job by presenting us with a reasonable budget to start with, he has now made it obvious that his real focus is NOT on doing what’s right for the people, but on using games, political manipulation, threats and bullying to set himself in (what he thinks is) the best light possible for re-election!

“It’s not about ‘the people’ for him. Instead, it’s about finding every way he can to blame and accuse House Republicans for every problem that he can think of.”

We’ll be back with updates as the debate, and ultimately the vote, takes place.

UPDATE #1: Amid what seems like a never-ending parade of Democrats and RINO Republicans going to the microphone to decry the “shutdowns” of the public-private hospitals and all the people who are supposedly going to die, we’re being told an amendment is coming by Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), the chair of the House Republican Delegation, which would impose a 20 percent cut to the TOPS program and spread the proceeds around to (1) restore general fund cuts to higher education ($26 million) and “make it whole,” and (2) throw the rest of the money ($32 million) at the public-private hospitals in order to make it less likely those would close.

It’s a bad amendment, but our speculation is it’s being offered so as to ward off an even worse result – namely, that the budget not pass. We’re given to believe without doing this they’re not going to be able to get to 53 votes to pass the budget.

UPDATE #2: Harris’ amendment passed by a sizable margin, with well over 60 votes, 64-42. That’s something of a test case for the budget itself and it might be out of the woods – but it’s way too early to know that for sure as amendments proceed.

There were only a handful of Republicans voting against the amendment – Julie Stokes, Barry Ivey, Rob Shadoin and Blake Miguez. Stokes, Ivey and Shadoin are the Republicans it looks like might be threats to vote against the budget overall, which isn’t enough to defeat it.

UPDATE #3: Miguez explains why he voted against Harris’ amendment…

“I was a TOPS student myself and I wasn’t comfortable voting to cut TOPS in favor of funding LDH (the Louisiana Department of Health). I voted my district. I have alway voted in the [budget] process to fully fund TOPS.

The amendment got on against my No vote but I still support HB1 [the budget].”

And he went further…

“The Dems want to kill HB1 under JBE’s orders to send us into an immediate special session to raise more taxes. And to make House Republicans look stupid.

“When Lance’s amendment got on, it made most of the moderate Reublicans happy to pick up their final “yes” vote on HB 1. They are all worried about their public-private partnership hospitals.”

If Miguez is correct, it’s a decent bet the budget is going to pass.

UPDATE #4: Another one of the moderates who isn’t on board with the budget is Rep. Bubba Chaney, who just said despite bringing an amendment to increase funding to the public hospitals at TOPS’ expense that he would not support HB 1.

Chaney’s amendment got only 37 votes.

UPDATE #5: With the amendment process finally coming to a close, the bill itself reached the floor.

And prior to the vote, new House Democrat Caucus chair Robert Johnson took to the floor to launch a stemwinder of a demagogic speech haranguing against the budget that will undoubtedly make it to YouTube soon.

One Republican representative texted us from the House floor, “He takes himself a lot more seriously than we take him.”

Henry closed on his bill by refuting the narrative that the Louisiana Department of Health has been in a “cutting” mode. He noted that in 2010 LDH’s total means of finance was $8 billion, and in the budget it’s now $11.9 million. He said to call that progression a “cut” would be “artistic.”

Then came the vote, and the budget passed by a 55-47 margin – a major win for conservatives in Louisiana. It now goes to the Senate, where that win will be challenged by a determined counterattack from the governor and his allies.

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