The “best-case scenario” for higher education and health care in Louisiana is actually better than what state officials originally pitched.
When Gov. John Bel Edwards announced in February his plan to close the historically large mid-year shortfall of about $900 million, he proposed state funding reductions for higher education at $42.8 million and hospitals at $64.3 million.
In the case of higher education, that cut would be coupled with a $28 million shortfall in funding to the TOPS scholarship, amounting to a total higher education shortfall of about $70 million.
These were considered the best case scenario, because Edwards stated in his televised remarks before the special session that these cuts were to happen, even if new taxes were raised.
But legislators, after listening to testimony about the dire ramifications of the impact of these cuts, seemingly are working past the best case scenario.
On Wednesday, legislators believed they had closed all but $67 million of the budget shortfall for this fiscal year. That number ballooned to $147 million over night after the Legislative Fiscal Office realized that a bill advancing state tax payments from retail stores wouldn’t generate $75 million after all by June 30.
Legislators have said they are still working to close the shortfall in its entirety.
On Friday, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne and Department of Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson both separately confirmed that the shortfall legislators are currently discussing encompasses the best case scenario cuts for higher education and hospitals.
If the legislature is successful in shoring up that gap, then higher education and hospitals will be better off than originally projected.
So far, higher education’s new best case scenario is about $33 million in total for this fiscal year — $28 million for the TOPS shortfall that schools will absorb, and another $5 million in proposed cuts from the Legislature that will mostly be absorbed by the Board of Regents.
However, Edwards and Dardenne still warned on Friday that the Legislature, with days left in the session, has failed to produce a solution to balance the budget and if they are unable to come to a consensus that means more severe cuts will be inevitable.