After years of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget policies, legislators studied with well-informed skepticism his plan to make cuts and juggle funds to arrive at a technically balanced budget.
Amid all the dodges and weaves proposed by Jindal’s commissioner of administration, Stafford Palmieri, one stood out to Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge. It was the $126 million the Jindal administration described as an “anti-fraud” initiative in the state health department that postpones payments to health care providers by two weeks.
Palmieri said that gives the department time to closely check for fraud — but the net effect, Claitor and other lawmakers noted, is that the maneuver pushes payments for services into the next budget year.
“We’re not going to find $126 million in fraud. We’re just slow-paying the providers,” Claitor said.
“This is cash flow management,” Palmieri replied.
It was a last expression of the cynical wonderland of Jindal accounting.
“While this might produce some savings from reducing fraud, the real ‘savings’ come from pushing the last two weeks of state payments owed to Medicaid health care provider plans into next fiscal year,” the Public Affairs Research Council commented. “This means the private companies behind Bayou Health will get a two-week delay in compensation and that next year’s budget will be that much deeper in the hole out the gate. In proposing its plan, the administration should have been more straightforward about the temporary nature of the cost savings instead of labeling the move primarily as an ‘anti-fraud’ initiative.”
The whole package was adopted by the budget committee, even as everybody understands that it is inadequate.
Among other things, the Jindal expedients include stripping $6.5 million from the coastal restoration office and $46 million from transportation, both areas where the state needs to spend more money rather than less. But the alternative, clearly planned to push legislators to vote for it, was to make further cuts to state colleges and universities.
The lawmakers were jammed, and they knew it.
To their credit, both candidates for governor criticized the Jindal plan. Republican David Vitter and Democrat John Bel Edwards rightly saw it as budgetary fraud.
We hope that Gov.-elect Edwards can in the coming year provide the leadership to right the leaky financial rowboat that has been left to his administration.
But he will need support from legislators, whether they voted to approve or reject the Jindal “deficit elimination” plan.
We agree with state Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, who voted against the administration proposal.
“We’re just going to smoke-and-mirrors our way through this, and then we’re going to have to deal with this in the very near future,” Schroder said. “This clearly isn’t fixing anything.”
But Schroder and his colleagues are going to have to make tough votes next year in the new Edwards administration. We hope they’ll have much more to work with in the way of financial responsibility at the top.