As the sixth week of the twelve week session begins, the budget takes center stage on Monday and Tuesday.
“Our public comment days are April the 14th and April the 15th,” explains House Appropriations chairman Jim Fannin. And he says they will work into the evening both days, to ensure everyone can be heard.
The committee has heard from all the state department heads thus far, and that testimony kept uncovering more budget holes. Last week, state education Superintendent John White to Appropriations members his department is short $55-million for the current budget year, which ends June 30th. He says the proposed budget for next year is short, as well.
“So how much would you think that it would be short?” Chairman Fannin inquired.
“Fifty million dollars,” White responded.
Earlier in the session, Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne testified that the state’s tourism budget was five million dollars shy of what had been requested. And Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain told the committee his department needed at least $3-million more than what has been allocated for the next year.
Funding for healthcare is proving a major problem—specifically the source of those dollars. Fannin called Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert on the carpet over $628-million in the Medicaid budget, drawn from one-time sources and used for recurring expenses. Under intense questioning, Kliebert finally stated that the Division of Administration picks the funding streams to use, not DHH.
“I’m just pointin’ out that we’re digging us a hole deeper and deeper,” Fannin said by way of oblique apology.
Concerns about Medicaid funds deepened late last week, when the federal Centers for Medicaid Services notified Louisiana authorities that $307-million dollars in Medicaid money is being withheld. It’s all because—with the exception of the Baton Rouge facility—privatization deals for the LSU charity hospitals have yet to get the blessing of the feds.
Over the next two days, public testimony on the budget is expected to raise even more questions of unfilled needs, rather than answers on how to pay for it all.