The Louisiana House has advanced legislation that would cut about $101 million from the state budget that ends June 30.
House Bill 122, which includes broad cuts to state agencies with four months left in the budget cycle, now heads to the Senate for consideration.
The move was the first clearing of a major hurdle lawmakers have faced in fixing the state’s $900 million budget shortfall. Gov. John Bel Edwards had proposed a $30 million cut, with the rest of the shortfall balanced with tax hikes. But his plan faced resistance — largely from the Republican-controlled House, which sought larger cuts to satisfy conservative constituents. The quick passage of the tax cuts in a unanimous 102-0 vote came after about an hour-and-a-half break in which members appeared to hash out some differences in the tax hike vs. budget cut battle.
House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, had initially proposed a $117 million cut, but scaled that back some to address legal and service issues that had been raised in the past 24 hours.
“This was a long exercise,” Henry told the House on Thursday. He said that cuts were largely based on what money agencies still have compared to their “burn rates” -- how much money they spend each month on average.
Several changes were made to the bill before it made it off the House floor, addressing concerns that were raised after it passed the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, including a proposed cut to public schools funding.
The bill no longer calls for a $44 million hit to the “Minimum Foundation Program” -- the key method of funding local schools, but that cut was shifted to the Department of Education.
Officials of the state Department of Education said a $44 million cut, combined with previous mid-year reductions, would decimate the agency — 85 percent of available dollars.
That money typically goes toward vouchers, the pre-kindergarten program called LA4, pre-K for non-public schools, testing, department staff and other areas.
Edwards and state lawmakers had already trimmed $60 million from the budget last week.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said he had not had a chance to review the ins and outs of the final budget bill as of Thursday afternoon, but he was concerned that it went farther than Edwards had recommended.
“We made the cuts we felt were appropriate to do,” he said.
But he noted that there is still time for the bill to change as it works through the process.
He said that the Education cut, in particular, was cause for pause.
“I think that’s too substantial of a cut to expect them to realize,” Dardenne said.
In separate action on Thursday, the Legislature also gave the final OK to Edwards’ plan to use $128 million from the state’s rainy day fund and $200 million from BP oil spill settlement money to help plug the budget shortfall.