Louisiana leaders still aren’t sure how much of the state’s $900 million budget shortfall remains two days after the frantic, high-stakes conclusion of a special legislative session in which lawmakers attempted to bridge the gap.
As of Friday, Gov. John Bel Edwards and other state officials were still speculating that the shortfall left for the budget that ends June 30 ranges from $30 million to more than $50 million, but it remains unclear where those cuts could fall.
Higher education and health care are the two primary targets when the state’s budget falls short, but leaders still are unsure what last-minute cuts they will have to make to balance their budgets in the next three months because they haven’t been notified of the share of the cuts they will have to bear.
Edwards, who has spent the past three weeks sounding the alarm over the threat of mid-year cuts, spent Friday viewing areas of northern Louisiana that have been hit by severe weather and flooding. He met with local leaders and emergency crews across the flood-affected area.
Julie Baxter Payer, an Edwards spokeswoman, said the Governor’s Office is waiting for financial analysts to determine the impact of bills passed in the chaotic final minutes of the session. Complicated amendments and tax exemptions were tacked on by lawmakers to revenue-generating bills that stand to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes this year and next.
“It’s just not completed yet,” she said Friday, adding that Edwards’ focus has been diverted to the emergency response for storm-ravaged parts of the state.
Former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration typically outlined midyear cutting plans within days of getting news that it would have to slash the budget.
While other state offices closed in Baton Rouge for bad weather Friday, leaders in the Division of Administration were still working on the budget Friday afternoon and planned to work on it over the weekend.
“The commissioner and others are working today and will continue working through the next several days to make budget determinations,” said spokesman Cody Wells. “We are uncertain when we will know exact numbers and impacts.”
A bill that would have let the Legislature sweep some $20 million from various department reserves to bring down the deficit didn’t receive final passage before the special session’s 6 p.m. deadline Wednesday. But leaders say they are hopeful that they can quickly pass legislation when the regular session begins Monday to bring that money back into the picture.
Higher education leaders said before the special session ended that they hoped to take swift action in response to whatever cuts they received. The impact likely will be amplified because the cuts are coming so late in the fiscal year and cannot be spread across a full 12 months. The cuts could lead to furloughs or layoffs, depending on how deep they go.
“While we don’t know the exact numbers just yet, the Governor’s Office will share official results with us as soon as they become concrete,” LSU President F. King Alexander said in an email to students, faculty and staff this week. “In turn, as soon as we are able to determine the impact of these cuts, we will reach out to the campus community with specifics.”
Dr. Rebekah Gee, secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals, said she was told that details about the cuts might not be available until Wednesday and the shortfall for the year could be as high as $70 million.
“Because all of this was done so last minute and in somewhat of an uncoordinated manner, no one has a handle of what the final number is going to be,” she said Friday.
Gee said health care services would be taking cuts before June 30, but she believes the overall budget shortfall was filled enough that hospitals will “be fairly sound” this fiscal year.
She added that waiver programs — those offering health care coverage to middle income families who need home care for severe disabilities — and other services for children and elderly would be prioritized.
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