After several weeks of examining the material they have to work with, the House Appropriations Committee begins sculpting the budget bill today. It’s clear they intend to use their chisels now, rather than later.
“Would it be preferable to you to have exactly what you’re going to be appropriated for the year, than you having to make mid-year cuts?” Representative Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) asked Higher Education Commissioner Joe Rallo, during budget hearings last week.
“You know, stability and certainty is always better than the cuts,” Rallo responded. “But I would also answer you by saying instead of just focusing on what higher ed gets and doesn’t get, we keep going back to undedicating a lot of things and prioritizing. And we believe that higher ed is a priority.”
As committee members have made no secret of their distrust of the Revenue Estimating Conference forecast, it's clear they are determined to carve three to five percent out of the next year's state spending before the fiscal year begins July first.
With health care the biggest budget item, that segment of the budget also appears to be where the committee intends to do the most carving, as this exchange between Harris and Health Secretary, Dr. Rebekah Gee, illustrates.
“What would you do if your budget was appropriated at, say, $100-million less in HB 1 than it is right now?” Harris asked.
“That would be draconian,” Gee replied.
“Well, you were able to handle $390-million in this midyear cut,” Harris hammered back. “So, you would look at much more draconian cuts, or would you prefer us to appropriate a fictitious number?”
“Remember that for every dollar that you cut to Medicaid, you’re cutting four to five dollars to the state economy – with $100-million being about a half-a-billion dollar cut to our economy,” the LDH Secretary reminded him.
“I’m not cutting. I’m appropriating,” Harris stated.
The budget chips start flying this morning at nine.