More than 100 state workers lost their jobs Friday — and others might — as part of the Jindal administration’s efforts to rebalance this year’s state budget, which was thrown out of whack by falling oil prices.
The Jindal proposal released Friday fills the $103.5 million midyear shortfall in expected revenues for state government’s $25 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that ends June 30. It is the second adjustment in the past three months. The previous midyear deficit, in November, required $170 million in adjustments.
Health care and transportation bear the brunt in this latest plan. Higher education again was spared cuts.
But 47 full-time workers and 64 part-time employees were laid off as part of $3.49 million cuts in the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said Friday. Affected employees already have been informed.
“We knew this was coming,” Dardenne said. “There’s was nothing else we could do.”
The layoffs will be spread through all of the state’s parks, which attracted 1.75 million visitors in 2013.
In addition, Fort Pike State Historical Site in New Orleans already has been closed, while the Plaquemine Lock and a Marksville Indian Mound will be closed within a month. The State Library will open only two days a week, the swimming pools won’t open and the hours at the parks will be curtailed.
“We’re not closing parks right now,” Dardenne said, adding staffs already have been reduced to the point that managers often clean cabins. “But we’re looking at that potential for the next fiscal year.”
Secretary of State Tom Schedler also is looking at layoffs to cover the $931,593 his office has been asked to cut. But his spokeswoman, Meg Casper, says the exact numbers haven’t been determined. Additionally, an election to fill a vacancy on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which sets policy for the state’s public schools, will be postponed until the fall.
The state employed 70,407 civil service and appointed employees as of Jan. 23, according to Louisiana State Civil Service.
“The decline in oil prices means putting everything on the table and making tough decisions about our spending in order to have a balanced budget,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said in a statement that accompanied the plan. “We will continue to make reductions to ensure we are not spending more than we take in. This plan includes strategic reductions that not only balance the current year budget, but put us in a position to create continued savings next year.”
Oil prices have fallen from $105 per barrel, when this year’s budget passed, to $51 on Thursday. The decline means that severance taxes and royalty revenues, which depend on the price of oil, dropped by $275 million.
The Jindal administration’s proposal to rebalance this year’s budget relies on $60.66 million in cuts and $42.84 million in what was identified as “revenue opportunities.” Many of the adjustments can be made unilaterally, but Nichols said at a news conference Friday she would present the plan to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget when it meets on Feb. 20.
The following week, Jindal is slated to release his budget plan for the next fiscal year, FY2016, that begins July 1. Even deeper budget reductions are anticipated in the coming year. More than $1 billion of the next year’s deficit comes from spending money this year that is not available next year. The total shortfall for FY2016 is expected to be about $1.6 billion.
Though higher education missed the latest round of adjustments, Nichols said the FY2016 cuts being considered for the state’s colleges, universities and technical schools would be so profound that legislators should deliberate when they next convene on April 13.
Sources of new money outlined in the latest midyear adjustment plan include excess revenue collections and funding from various pots of state money, such as the Telephone Company Property Assessment Relief Fund and the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly. The move drained the source used to pay nursing homes to care for the elderly on Medicaid.
The proposed cutbacks identified include fuel savings, delaying projects and purchases, hiring freezes and eliminating vacant positions, as well as cuts to travel budgets and contract costs for legal and other services.
The plan would “create savings,” about $13.5 million worth, from state Department of Health and Hospitals. That means DHH also will lose an additional $8.15 million in federal matching money, according to the agency’s spokeswoman, Olivia Watkins.
“We’re working very hard to maintain services to patients, that is our priority,” Nichols said.
Nichols targeted $5.88 million from human service districts, including contract reductions, office space consolidations and travel expense reductions, and “by backfilling reductions with funds from community grants and other sources.”
The 10 districts provide services for mental health and addictive disorders in homes or in community facilities, rather than in large institutions.
Also on the chopping block are plans to expand health care programs that provide home- and community-based care for the elderly and people who are developmentally disabled. Families pack legislative hearings each year begging for additional funding. The administration will not take any more new people into programs that provide home services for the developmentally disabled. Current recipients and those already offered a slot would not be impacted.
As of Jan. 9, 2,211 spots were available for home- and community-based services in health agency programs for the developmentally disabled and elderly, according to DHH.
The move doesn’t create any savings, but it sets in motion the reduction of those programs, Nichols said.
“That’s very disappointing,” Sandee Winchell, executive director of the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council, told the Associated Press. She said for one of the programs, “people at the top of the waiting list have been waiting for over 10 years.”
Marsha Shuler, of The Advocate Capitol news bureau, contributed to this report.
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