Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration is preparing a spending plan in the coming weeks that will include draconian cuts to government services, along with a nonbinding letter that recommends revenue measures to offset some of those reductions should legislators choose.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget architect, said Monday he couldn’t yet specify what the cuts would be or whether state employees will be laid off.
His speech to the Press Club of Baton Rouge countered a growing criticism among some Republicans that the Edwards administration is relying too heavily on raising taxes rather than cutting spending to balance the state budget.
State government is running out of money and will have to find an additional $750 million to $800 million to meet its obligations over the next five months. Continuing the same spending into the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, will require about $1.9 billion of adjustments in order to cover the shortfall.
“It requires unprecedented, dramatic, profound changes in the delivery of service at every level of government,” Dardenne said. “It’s not pretty. Legislators are not going to like it and the public isn’t going to like it.”
But Edwards will release a straightforward budget proposal that is not based on fabricated revenue and budgeting gimmicks that make the problems seem less dire, he said.
“The solutions require honesty; and require a candid discussion with the people of Louisiana about the reality about where we are in this state,” Dardenne said.
That will be in the bill, which legislators will have to approve to allow the state government to spend taxpayer money. The letter that will accompany the legislation will detail what the administration thinks ought to be done to prevent the doomsday scenario.
The governor is expected to call a special session this week that tackles the immediate shortfall in the budget. The meeting would begin on Feb. 14 and end shortly before the regular legislative session that is to begin March 14.
Dardenne said the state needs to handle the deficit while also changing a handful of laws that would allow more flexibility in determining how much is spent on services. The administration is looking at contracts with the state and laws that require money to be spent on specific programs. But laws would need to be changed before either option could be significantly revamped, he said.
But the administration proposes across-the-board cuts of 10 percent to many of the protected funds in the current budget year, to save $160 million.
Dardenne spoke to reporters in Baton Rouge after visiting with the Republican legislators at a caucus meeting in Lafayette. Edwards also visited with the Republicans, who make up a large majority of both chambers of the Louisiana Legislature, in Lafayette.
Dardenne said GOP lawmakers asked questions but gave no indication about where they stood on the budgetary issues.
Senate President John Alario and House Speaker Taylor Barras, both Republicans, have both said they expected taxes to be part of any overall solution. But individual GOP members and activist groups affiliated with the party have come out against any of the proposed revenue-raising measures.
House Majority Leader Lance Harris said the reason for the meeting in Lafayette was to try to get a consensus among Republicans about how to solve the budget issues.
Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB.
For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/