Secretary of State Tom Schedler said he would be out of his mind to reduce museum hours and lay off workers in an election year like this one.
Yet that is exactly what Schedler is doing as he faces what is likely to be a crowded field of opponents in the Oct. 22 primary.
“I have no choice,” he said.
Across state government, cuts are being made to balance the $25.3 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
• The State Library no longer will be open to the public on Fridays.
• Cameras are continuing to replace guards at the state’s prisons.
• No new state troopers will be trained for the third year in a row.
• Hours at museums and historic sites will shrink.
• Hundreds of state workers stand to lose their jobs.
• Children will have less time to splash in the pools at state parks.
• Teachers are being thrown into the unemployment line.
“It’s tough times. Everybody has to make a difficult choice,” said House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown.
The cuts contrast with the jubilation that accompanied the passage of a state spending plan that once was projected to have a $1.6 billion shortfall. At the end of the session, legislators slapped each other on the back for passing a budget they said avoided devastating reductions.
“In the museum sector, they absolutely are devastating,” Schedler said. “If you’re a lover of museums, they’re devastating.”
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said legislators left him without the necessary dollars to make repairs at state parks or to keep state historic sites, including Audubon State Historic Site near St. Francisville, open seven days a week.
“(There were) some serious cuts,” Dardenne said.
Legislators faced huge challenges in crafting the current year’s state budget because of the evaporation of federal stimulus and health care dollars. Even though state revenue grew, the income the state gets from the federal government diminished.
To balance the budget, legislators pulled money from an economic development “megafund” and other special funds. They also made roughly $400 million in spending cuts.
Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater said the public will not necessarily feel the impact of the reductions.
“People are being very creative,” he said.
Rainwater said examples include security cameras replacing prison guards, nonprofit organizations replacing state workers in accepting applications for social services and state duties being consolidated.
He said turning off the air conditioners in state buildings in the evenings saves the state $4 million a year.
State Sen. Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport and vice chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the state never fell off the “cliff” that was projected when the shortfall was pegged at $1.6 billion. Instead, she said, the state tumbled down a staircase, creating bumps and bruises.
“We’re going to continue to see, as the fiscal year progresses, the impact of the cuts,” she said. “This is smaller government. This is smaller, leaner government.”
Barry Landry, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said parish and municipal school districts are grappling with the loss of $382 million in stimulus dollars.
“The districts were aware from the beginning that this was one-time funding,” he said.
The state is no longer picking up costs it once did, such as helping with the expense of taking private schoolchildren to class by bus.
Schools also are facing rising retirement costs and several years’ of frozen basic state financial support. Increases in state funding only were given for enrollment growth. Teachers across Louisiana are receiving layoff notices.
House Speaker Tucker said the increased retirement costs are eating up districts’ discretionary income.
Funding for the agency that houses State Police dropped 40 percent.
State Police Col. Mike Edmonson said the bulk of the reduction is money the state is no longer receiving from BP for the fallout from the Gulf oil leak.
The law enforcement agency is saving $650,000 by canceling another cadet class to train new troopers. The last class was in 2008.
Edmonson said Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration at one point brought the number of state troopers to 1,140. Now there are 1,040 troopers, he said.
Edmonson said he is trying to fill the void by hiring retired troopers who collect payment for the work they perform as well as their retirement checks. He said they don’t have to be paid benefits since they already receive them through retirement.
Another two years without a cadet class, Edmonson said, would create a dramatic effect.
“Each year you don’t have a class after this year, you start chiseling or eroding the structure we’ve put in place,” he said.
The Jindal administration created $200 million in “efficiencies” by replacing state general fund revenue with other dollars. The “efficiencies” freed up state general fund revenue and helped balance the budget.
Dardenne said one of those “efficiencies” consisted of taking money from a fund that is used to maintain state parks. Instead of making repairs, the state now will use that fund to operate the parks, he said.
“Lots of repairs and maintenance are needed,” Dardenne said. “It’s inevitable that something’s going to break.”
Dardenne said staff reductions forced him to close the State Library on Fridays to allow employees to catch up on their work.
Beginning Aug. 1, historic sites across the state no longer will be open on Mondays and Tuesdays. Visitors will have fewer days to see where Jefferson Davis’ wife is buried or to walk the trails that naturalist John James Audubon walked.
Schedler said he spared his two largest museums, the Old State Capitol in downtown Baton Rouge and the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport, from reduced hours, for now, in making $1.3
million in cuts.
Smaller museums across the state, including the Delta Music Museum in Ferriday and the Eddie G. Robinson Museum in Grambling, are cutting hours.
Nine part-time museum workers will be out of work next week, Schedler said.
“Instead of cutting grass every week, we’ll cut grass every other week,” Schedler said, adding that he also is targeting “pens, pencils (and) travel.”
He said the cuts are just beginning.
Other cutbacks include:
• Eliminating the position of assistant secretary of public works and intermodal transportation at the state Department of Transportation and Development.
• Consolidating human resources, information technology and finance at Louisiana State Police, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and the Office of Juvenile Justice.