BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Senate advanced the state budget plan for next year, featuring deep cuts to TOPS and the partnership hospitals in Louisiana.
With a vote of 37-2, the full Senate adopted the changes introduced by the Senate Finance Committee with barely an hour of debate Wednesday and few amendments. That budget takes into account the state's estimates $600 million shortfall for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
"The only thing that we're here to do is to decide how do we impose $600 million in cuts? Because that's all we can do," said Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, while presenting the bill on the Senate floor. LaFleur chairs the Senate Finance Committee.
Compared to the House plan, the budget passed by the Senate more closely mirrors the governor's proposed budget.
The Senate plan includes a $60 million cut to the state's partnership hospitals that treat the uninsured. Higher education's budget, meanwhile, takes a 7 percent reduction, which is the equivalent of about $178 million.
Other agencies also face large reductions, including the Department of Corrections and the Department of Children and Family Services.
"There's still some critically vital concerns that we have to try to deal with and we won't be happy until we get all of those holes filled to do what's in the best interest of folks," said Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans.
Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, worried about the TOPS program, which is funded at 48 percent.
"In any negotiation, it works well if you have a hostage or two and it's clear that the governor's hostage is the TOPS program," Claitor said.
That "hostage," along with other impending cuts, could prove helpful during the second special session in convincing even those against new taxes to vote in favor more revenue. That second special session begins on Monday, June 6.
"I think it's going to force everybody to say is this the final budget you can look at or do you have to look at a revenue enhancement? I think it's going to force that discussion," said Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle indicated that they need to generate $450 million in additional revenue during the second special session to fix most of the problems in the budget. A spokesman for the governor indicated that is the bare minimum needed, and that the governor believes they need to raise even more than that.
"If it's a priority, I'm assuming that we will fund it, and we'll have to address that in the special session," LaFleur said at one point during floor debate. "Again, this will be another item that I assume we're going to address during the special session," he said at another time.
The budget now heads to the House, where they can vote on the changes made in the Senate.