Gov. Bobby Jindal said Wednesday that he’ll offer lawmakers “suggested solutions” in February that could lessen the depth of next year’s budget cuts as the state grapples with a $1.6 billion projected shortfall.
The Republican governor’s 2015-16 budget proposal is due to lawmakers Feb. 27. It will outline Jindal’s recommendations for closing the gap in the fiscal year that begins July 1. The Jindal administration already is floating the possibility the proposal will contain state financing cuts of up to $400 million for public colleges and $300 million to health care services.
But in an interview with The Associated Press, Jindal said he’ll also pair the cut proposals he sends to lawmakers with a list of options to shrink some of the slashing. He said he can’t include money from the ideas in his budget because they’d need legislative approval to work.
“We’ll be presenting suggested solutions that the Legislature might want to consider that could help mitigate these impacts, particularly on higher education and health care,” Jindal said.
He wouldn’t provide specifics, except to say he wouldn’t support tax increases. “We think that would be a mistake and would hurt our economy,” the governor said.
Higher education leaders have said the depth of cuts being talked about by the Jindal administration would devastate their campuses, force widespread layoffs and damage educational programs that are vital to Louisiana’s economy.
The possible health care cuts, which could grow to as much as $1 billion with lost federal Medicaid matching money, also have raised worries about damaging or eliminating services.
Lawmakers have talked about raising fees, reworking tax break programs and looking for other available pots of money to fill gaps and hold off steep reductions. Jindal said his administration is talking with legislative leaders about the ideas.
He continued to assert that scaling back a tax break without cutting taxes elsewhere is akin to a tax increase in his eyes — and he said he’d oppose that. But lawmakers are trying to find loopholes where Jindal can claim a tax change as “revenue neutral” while also coming up with dollars for the budget.
Louisiana has struggled through repeated budget problems since 2008. About $1 billion of next year’s shortfall is tied to the loss of piecemeal financing that Jindal and lawmakers used to pay for services and programs this year that won’t be available next year. A plunge in oil prices has worsened the financial troubles.
Before he reveals his spending recommendations for next year, Jindal must devise a plan to close a $103 million midyear deficit that has developed in this year’s $25 billion budget. The governor said he’ll send that budget rebalancing plan to lawmakers this week, to give them time to comb through it in advance of a Feb. 6 vote.
“I’m confident and optimistic that for midyear reductions we’re going to be able to protect our priorities. Our bigger challenge is going to be next year’s budget,” he said.