The Jindal administration eliminated 167 vacant positions and found some extra dollars to balance the budget halfway through the fiscal year.
“None of the positions that were taken were filled,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief budgetary adviser, said Friday. “The bottom line is we protected higher ed. We protected health care. There were no layoffs.”
State funding for higher education and health care often carries the brunt of budget cuts.
The administration had to close a $180 million deficit in the $25 billion budget that runs through June 30 after finding that revenues are not being collected in the amounts anticipated when the state spending plan was drafted earlier this year. The gap is largely due to recent declines in the price of oil, which impacts royalties and severance tax collections, and lower than expected personal income tax receipts.
State law requires the budget to be balanced, which Nichols said was done by finding about $130 million in additional revenues and reducing spending by about $50 million.
Nichols testified Friday before a hearing of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. The panel will study the budget plan for 30 days before taking whatever votes are necessary.
The administration found an additional $32.1 million from this year’s tax amnesty program, $15 million more than expected from fees charged to drivers without automobile insurance, and $47 million from other sources. A handful of funds — including the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students — cost $24 million less than expected, so that money can go into the state’s general fund and help balance the budget.
Nichols said about 700 fewer students than expected took part in Louisiana’s voucher program for students in low-performing public schools, according to an October tally. That put another $4 million back in the till. The state also sold properties for $1.75 million.
Another $10.9 million was saved on travel, supplies and services from an expenditure freeze.
“This approach has probably mitigated major cuts to health care and higher education. I’m pleased with it,” said state Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which writes the budget bill that outlines what services the state will pay for and how.
“What the commissioner presented seems reasonable to me,” said state Sen. Jack Donahue, of Mandeville. But he said he’ll hold off on any statements of support until after he has a chance to study the proposal.
Donahue chairs the Senate Finance Committee, which also must sign off on the state’s annual spending plan. One of the issues he has with the budgeting process is that whenever the state comes up short, it cashes in state government positions that are funded but not filled. Private companies don’t fund positions that are not filled. Why not just shut down those positions from the get-go and count the money in the general fund, Donahue wondered aloud.
“I think that’s part of what frustrates me and other legislators,” Donahue said.
Getting rid of those jobs will save $12.17 million, the administration proposal states.
The reductions don’t include front-line providers, road maintenance workers, case workers and field staff. Instead, the deficit elimination plan targeted mostly unfilled administrative positions.
“When you reduce those positions, they produce a slight strain on administrative services, but they don’t affect people on the street,” Nichols said.
While the health department accounts for more than a third of the state’s total budget, it received only a $5 million cut. Start dates for some of its contracts will be delayed, travel and supply purchases will be reduced, and jobs won’t be filled.
“I do feel like these are reductions that we can take without affecting services to people,” Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert said.
Among the health care cuts, criteria will be changed for the Pediatric Day Health Care Program, which provides nursing care, physical therapy and education services to children with severe medical conditions. Fewer children will be eligible for the program. Kliebert said the state can provide the services at a cheaper cost through other available programs at schools and day care facilities that have less restrictive environments.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.