Edwards Administration: House Budget Damaging To Services

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration on Tuesday trashed House Republicans' version of next year's budget, saying it would cause widespread damage to health care, child welfare programs and other government services.

         In an afternoon news conference, Edwards' cabinet officials outlined a litany of criticisms against the proposal that emerged from the House Appropriations Committee. They said it would keep some Medicaid recipients from getting medications, shutter psychiatric treatment beds, force furloughs of nonviolent inmates and close two veterans' cemeteries.

         "The bill awaiting action on the House floor is a non-starter," said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the Democratic governor's chief budget adviser.

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         Health Secretary Rebekah Gee called the budget plan irresponsible. Children and Family Services Secretary Marketa Garner Walters said the proposal shows a "lack of compassion" that she described as "appalling."

         The more than $28 billion operating budget proposal in the House would spend $235 million less in state tax dollars than an income forecasting panel projects Louisiana will receive, instead using 97.5 percent of the forecast dollars.

         Edwards wants to use all the dollars projected — and he's proposed tax hikes that would raise millions more to spend on government services and programs he says have been starved of needed funding.

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         House Republican leaders worry the income projections are too rosy and could force cuts in the middle of the budget year if lawmakers spend the full amount, a situation that has repeatedly happened over the last decade. They've objected to raising taxes. And they say agencies can cope with their budget proposal without damaging cuts, by not filling vacant jobs, stalling planned vehicle purchases and equipment upgrades and delaying a payment to health providers in the Medicaid program.

         As the rewritten budget was introduced and approved Monday, Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, a Metairie Republican, predicted agencies would tell lawmakers "the world's going to fall apart" under the scaled-back spending plan.

         "That's the standard line we're going to get," he said.

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         Most of the money cut from the governor's budget proposal was stripped from the health department, $153 million to account for the reduced use of state tax dollars and another $82 million to fully fund the TOPS college tuition program. Dollars also were removed from education programs, the prisons department, the state's child welfare agency and the state police.

         Dardenne criticized lawmakers for not describing which specific programs or services to cut but then also restricting how spending should be reduced. For example, the House version of the budget would require many of the most minor budget changes to need legislative approval throughout the year.

         "This potentially will grind the wheels of government to a halt," Dardenne said.

         The full House is scheduled to debate the budget proposal Thursday.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte


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