Legislative budget leaders received a grim overview Saturday of what would happen if lawmakers don’t find a way to fill the $2 billion projected shortfall in the state budget that begins July 1.
Higher education funding would be reduced by nearly $400 million.
State agencies that oversee veterans affairs, agriculture and forestry, and economic development would see their budgets slashed by more than half.
State parks and museums would receive less than 30 percent of their current state funding.
The only areas that wouldn’t be touched would be the funding for public schools, elections and some local support items that are protected by the state constitution.
The executive budget proposal that Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne presented to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee reflects drastic cuts looming for state services as lawmakers prepare to head into a special session beginning Sunday.
As Dardenne put it, this is the “doomsday scenario” the state faces.
“That’s the harsh reality, and that’s the budget that will be submitted,” Dardenne said.
The executive budget proposal isn’t meant to be an actual wish-list from Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration. Instead, Edwards has said he intends for it to be a realistic picture of the budget crisis the state faces as he is urging the Legislature to approve a series of tax hikes.
“Let me be perfectly clear. This is NOT the budget I want passed but the budget I must submit to you based on my constitutional obligation to submit a balance budget,” Edwards wrote in a message to legislators that was submitted with the proposal, warning that the outlook “is not pretty.”
Edwards’ revenue-generating ideas include a 1-cent sales tax hike, a 22-cent increase in the cigarette tax and an overhaul of the personal and corporate income tax brackets. He also has asked lawmakers to overhaul some of the tax credits that are given to businesses.
The dire projections follow the nearly $900 million shortfall in the budget that ends June 30. Edwards has proposed plugging that hole with $120 million from the state’s rainy day fund, $200 million from the state’s noncoastal BP oil spill settlement money and about $160 million in cuts to state agencies. About $340 million would be raised over the next four months if the Legislature agrees to Edwards’ tax proposals.
Dardenne said it would be “virtually impossible for a state to continue rendering services” with the cuts he outlined under the $2 billion shortfall.
“It’s the wake-up call. It’s the reality. It’s the alarms sounding,” he said. “The needs of the people will not be met.”
Dardenne’s presentation lasted for more than three hours, with several lawmakers raising questions and concerns.
“It’s unrealistic. I don’t think many of these agencies can afford to continue offering state services,” said state Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge. “It’s down to the marrow at this point.”
But several legislators also indicated that they are skeptical of the plan to raise taxes to cover the shortfall.
“The people of Louisiana — at least the ones I’m dealing with — think we are spending too much,” said Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.
State Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, questioned whether the state has done everything it can to scale back its budget.
“Honestly, most people want us to do that,” he said. “Most people think we need to live within our means”