Jindal proposes mix of cuts, one-time fixes to close deficit
Gov. Bobby Jindal
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Health care services in Louisiana will shrink, transportation spending will be trimmed and three historic sites will close under Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposal to close a more than $103 million midyear deficit while also adding more stopgap funds into the budget.
The Jindal administration released its plan Friday to rebalance the state's $25 billion budget and account for the impact of falling oil prices, giving lawmakers two weeks to sift through the details before voting on the recommendations Feb. 20.
To close the gap before the fiscal year ends June 30, the Republican governor wants to add another $43 million in piecemeal financing to the $1.1 billion already in this year's budget and cut state spending by another $61 million.
"The decline in oil prices means putting everything on the table and making tough decisions about our spending in order to have a balanced budget," Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said in a statement.
She said the cuts were made with an eye to also helping balance next year's budget, when the state faces a $1.6 billion shortfall. Jindal already closed a previous $170 million midyear deficit in November.
More than 110 state workers will get pink slips. Spending on transportation supplies, a drug abuse education program and training for local law enforcement will be lessened. Plans to add hundreds to a program that provides home-based assistance to people with developmental disabilities will be shelved, even as thousands remain on waiting lists.
Three state historic sites — Fort Pike, a Marksville Indian mound and Plaquemine Lock — are being closed, and the state library will only open two days a week, under cuts planned for the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. Hours for all state parks will be reduced, and swimming pools won't open in the spring.
"We're doing this very reluctantly, simply because we have no choice. There was just no place else for us to go," said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who oversees the agency.
Dardenne said he'll have to lay off 47 full-time and 64 part-time workers to cope with the cut assigned to his department. He said he'll also have to scale back his spring tourism marketing campaign, a move that he said will lessen the state's ability to attract visitors — and the tax dollars they generate.
One of the largest reductions will fall on the Department of Health and Hospitals.
The agency will take a $13 million cut, which grows to $21 million when lost federal matching dollars are included. Much of the slashing will fall on the state's human services districts, local government agencies that receive funding to provide mental health and addictive disorder treatment services.
Also on the chopping block are plans to expand health care programs that provide home- and community-based care for the elderly and people who are developmentally disabled. Families pack legislative hearings each year begging for additional funding.
"That's very disappointing," said Sandee Winchell, executive director of the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council. She said for one of the programs, "people at the top of the waiting list have been waiting for over 10 years."
Only public colleges were spared reductions in this latest round of slashing, though they face the threat of deep cuts next year.
To stop any further reductions this year, Jindal wants to shift dollars from a gaming enforcement fund to plug holes elsewhere, drain the remaining dollars from a nursing home trust fund and tap into other one-time pools of cash. He's planning to move money earmarked for road work to instead pay for state police operations, a maneuver that has been criticized for steering much-needed cash from road and bridge repairs.