Gov. John Bel Edwards released his worst-case-scenario budget Monday, a spending plan that would include potentially devastating cuts to higher education and health care funding — the result of the looming $1 billion state budget shortfall.

Budget cuts and proposed cuts often fall on higher education and health care because of a labyrinth of regulations, obligations and state constitutional restrictions that limit how the state can make cuts and often dictate where it must spend.

Amid several years of continued state financial gaps and cuts to close them, those rules and limitations have made the task of budget balancing more difficult. They've also made public colleges and certain health programs for the poor, elderly and disabled most vulnerable to the repeated slashing.


Nearly half the money Louisiana has to spend is federal financing tied to specific programs with limitations on how the dollars can be spent, such as disaster recovery, food stamps, the Medicaid program or roadwork. The money can't just be reshuffled according to a state's wishes.


Of the remaining money, 40 percent is earmarked in state law or the Louisiana Constitution for specific purposes or is generated from fees for services. That includes tuition dollars paid to colleges, lottery proceeds set aside for K-12 education and car registration fees that help pay for motor vehicle offices.


The final slice — tax dollars and collections known as state general fund money — is about one-third of the budget and the true flexible pot of money for setting state priorities. But even there, constraints exist.

Among those limitations, the state constitution requires the funding of things like debt payments, the K-12 public school financing formula, elections and a state supplement to local police salaries.

In all, nearly half of those general tax dollars, the most flexible, are already spoken for, before Edwards and lawmakers decide their priorities, such as how much they want to spend on education or health services.


Complicating the divvying of dollars further, lawmakers and voters have made it difficult to cut some areas, adding protections for payments to hospitals and nursing homes, for example.

While lawmakers can change some rules to make it easier to rework spending, they've repeatedly refused to scale back protections in the state's constitution or laws that limit their ability to decide budget priorities each year.