The leader of Louisiana's House Republican delegation offered his proposal Thursday for slashing $304 million in state spending, to close a midyear deficit without needing the special legislative session Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards intends to call.
Alexandria Rep. Lance Harris' plan, provided to reporters on Thursday, would levy the deepest reduction of $147 million on the health department. Public colleges, the state's social services department and the veterans affairs agency would be protected from hits.
Cuts would fall on roadwork, state prisons, K-12 education, agriculture and the state tourism agency, among others. Spending on state-financed construction projects would be reduced. Louisiana wouldn't use its "rainy day" fund under the plan — and it could be enacted without calling the full Legislature back to Baton Rouge.
The plan represents "how I would do it as if this was my business," Harris said.
Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo described Harris' one-page proposal as "vague recommendations."
"While we are still analyzing his proposal, we look forward to working with him to identify exactly how these cuts will devastate critical state services, such as health care and for the first time, education," Carbo said in a statement.
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Edwards is planning a mid-February special session to close the gap in the $27 billion state operating budget.
He said constitutional limits on the governor and the joint budget committee's ability to slash spending would make cuts fall too heavily on public colleges and health services for the poor, elderly and disabled. A special session, the governor said, would allow lawmakers to cut more broadly across programs and agencies, like cutting spending on the Legislature.
The idea has faced resistance from some GOP lawmakers who say the governor and the joint budget committee could rebalance the budget on their own.
But the Edwards administration has said those same lawmakers critical of a special session haven't offered any budget-rebalancing ideas to show how that could work. In a comment on Twitter, Carbo on Wednesday said Republicans had "ample opportunity to propose spending cuts" and hadn't done so over the last year.
On Thursday, Harris responded with his broad roadmap for reductions.
"The governor has it within his power to do this without a special session. I do think he should do this," Harris said. But he added: "If he decides to have a special session, I will be here."
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Harris said the plan was his idea, not offered on behalf of the full House GOP delegation. He said it comes from looking at the continuing growth of state government over the last 14 years, which Harris said has outpaced growth in the private sector.
The spreadsheet doesn't get into detailed explanations of how the cuts would fall on each agency. Instead, it describes how much money would be cut from each department and from which pools of financing — but it doesn't recommend which individual programs should take the brunt of the reductions. The health department, for example, would decide how to divvy its $147 million hit, because Harris doesn't offer specifics about where the cuts should fall.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor's chief budget adviser, said he welcomed any ideas for where to make cuts. Dardenne was skeptical, however, of a plan that didn't involve a special session — or use of the rainy day fund.
"My sense is that it's going to be very difficult to achieve the kind of savings he's talking about without getting deep into substantive delivery of services" in the health department, Dardenne said.
Harris said the health department's budget has grown dramatically, and he suggested it could reduce spending without hitting direct patient services, by trimming travel, salaries and supplies. But Dardenne said the size of Harris' proposed cuts to the health department are so large that "you can't nibble around the edges."
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