When the full House convened Thursday to debate and vote on the budget bill, Appropriations chairman Cameron Henry put members on notice: choose your words carefully.
“We don’t have any 'cuts' in the budget. We’re reducing the appropriation because we don’t have the money. For me to 'cut' you, I have to have given you the money in the first place, and we haven’t given anyone any money as of right now.”
Overall, the budget only spends 97.5 percent of expected revenue for the next fiscal year. The biggest cuts – excuse me, “spending reductions” -- are to the Department of Health: $235-million less from the state General Fund.
“235 now, I think, is manageable, based on the previous reductions where none of those services is affected,” Henry told the body.
“How many federal dollars will we lose with this cut?” Representative Sam Jones (D-Franklin) wanted to know.
“It’s not a 'cut”, if we don’t have the money to give them,” Henry insisted.
“So what’s that total – state and federal?” Jones asked.
“619, to be exact,” Henry said, after consulting with Legislative Fiscal Office staff.
“$619-million dollar cut to DHH?” Jones asked, to make sure the entire House heard.
“Nope, not a $619-million dollar cut to DHH,” Henry replied. “You can say it, and I’m going to correct you every time. If we don’t have the money to give it to ‘em, we can’t take it from ‘em.”
“How many people will this impact?” Jones pressed.
“Representative Jones, these questions are probably perfect for the Secretary of that department. So if you would like her to come down here, she can explain to you, I promise, in nauseum, exactly where it’s gonna go,” Henry responded.
But they didn’t call Health Secretary Rebekah Gee to the floor. Instead, the Republican majority in the House marched the budget right through toward the final vote.
“63 yeas and 40 nays and the bill is finally passed,” Speaker Taylor Barras announced.
Governor John Bel Edwards issued a statement, calling the House budget “flawed”, and saying it “endanger the health and welfare of the people of Louisiana.” Further, the governor says he looks forward to “working with the Senate to craft a responsible budget.”
The Senate Finance Committee gets started on it next week.