“We’re trying to get away from having consistent midyear cuts, which, as of right now, the only way I can think of doing it is not appropriating all of the money,” House Appropriations chair Cameron Henry said, as he called for his committee to approve what he referred to as a “standstill” budget, spending just 97.5% of the revenue forecast for the next fiscal year.
The committee changes to the governor's recommended budget initially called for cutting $155-million from the Department of Health, but Baton Rouge Representative Franklin Foil soon proposed diverting another $82-million to fully fund TOPS.
“We are giving LDH the flexibility as to how to make the cut, so I would ask that we take action consistent with our words, that we believe TOPS is a priority,” Foil urged, and got consent from the majority of the members.
As written now, HB 1 tells the Commissioner of Administration to cut a total of $236-million from health care, but the instructions also say not to touch disabilities waivers, behavioral health or graduate medical education. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne then asked the panel for specifics on which programs they do want him to cut.
“Aren’t we telling you where to make the cut?” Alexandria Representative Lance Harris asked, testily. “It’s under the LDH.”
“You’re doing it generally by department, but you’re certainly not getting into specifics of programs that you don’t want to see funded,” Dardenne responded.
“Are you expecting me to dig down into the weeds of LDH and tell you what programs need to be cut?” Harris demanded. “That’s what we are paying you to do!”
The committee ultimately voted 17-5, along party lines, to advance the bill, despite a warning from Dardenne.
“The governor said that it was his hope, at some point in the future, to not budget the entire amount of money that had been approved by the Revenue Estimating Conference,” Dardenne reminded them. “But he also made it very clear that in the current budget year he would not accept a budget that sought to do that.”
At present, the full House is scheduled to debate and vote on the budget bill on Thursday.