Gov. John Bel Edwards' plan for next year's budget would cut nearly all state agencies and wouldn't fully-fund TOPS scholarships, road improvements or employee raises.
"This is obviously not the budget we would like to propose to you," Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Edwards' chief budget architect, told the Joint Legislative Budget Committee on Thursday. "We have to live within our means; we have to have a balanced budget."
The state Legislature will ultimately decide during the regular session that starts in April which programs and services will take cuts in the budget that begins July 1.
Lawmakers on Wednesday closed a $304 million mid-year deficit in the budget that ends June 30. Immediately the focus is turning to the next budget cycle.
"Unfortunately, there's no rest for the weary," Dardenne joked during the hearing.
Edwards is required by law to submit a plan for how the state will spend the money it's projected to take in.
The $29.7 billion budget plan unveiled Thursday is up from the $28.3 billion in the current budget cycle, with an increase in federal dollars largely tied to the state's Medicaid program.
The state's portion of the proposed budget, about $9.4 billion, is about $440 million short of what Edwards' budget analysts say would be needed to maintain existing state services in the coming year.
Included in the proposal is a list of things that Edwards would like to fund if more money is available. The popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, which saw its first significant cut this year, is at the top of the list.
For years, TOPS has paid full tuition for qualifying students. In the current budget, which lawmakers crafted last spring, the state funded TOPS at 70 percent, leaving students to pick up the difference out of pocket.
To fully fund the scholarships again, the state would need about $81.8 million more in the budget, under Edwards' proposal.
The budget proposal also calls for a 6.2 percent cut, about $30.5 million, to the state's private partners that run safety net hospitals.
"We want to do what's responsible and appropriate to compensate our partners, but at the same time we're going to live within our means and they are going to live within their means," Dardenne said.
Edwards has tasked state lawmakers with reviewing the entire budget in the coming session to provide more structural stability. The most recent shortfall was the state's 15th in nine years.
Dardenne wouldn't say what the governor the types of changes the governor might recommend as part of that separate process.
The Louisiana Legislature closed a $304 million mid-year budget deficit after a short specia…
"We honestly don't know yet," he said. "What we do know is the system we have right now is not working."
A task force has recommended that the state make changes to its income tax brackets and re-evaluate some tax credits and deductions to provide stability.
Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, called on the Edwards administration to offer a comprehensive plan. "I think the discipline should start at the executive branch," he said.
State Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, said she worries about the stress of further cuts to state services.
"I keep hearing people say 'Do more with less' but at some point you do less with less and become ineffective with programs," she said. "I believe we are really quite lean at this point."
Because of the repeated state budget shortfalls, the state's colleges and universities have a collective $1.7 billion in deferred maintenance – upkeep projects that are acknowledged as being needed but unfunded. More than $1 billion of that is in LSU's system alone.
None of Edwards' budget proposal goes toward lowering that.
"If you have a small hole in your roof and you patch it, it will be patched and you don't have to replace your entire roof," Dardenne said of the potential impact of having those projects deferred again.
Behind TOPS, if more money becomes available through additional revenue Edwards plan proposes performance-based pay raises for state employees, who have not received raises in several years; funding for technology upgrades; and increased transportation spending, among other suggestions.
Dardenne said that the administration is also looking to shared services across agencies to try to cut costs.
"We're moving toward that happening," he said. "It's not going to happen in one felled swoop but we're moving in that direction."