BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The House and Senate advanced a budget for next year featuring deep cuts to TOPS and the partnership hospitals.
Lawmakers voted in favor of the plan late Sunday evening after a conference committee consisting of members from both chambers spent several hours Sunday working behind the scenes on the budget.
"I know the budget's not perfect, like everybody would like it to be, there's some holes obviously ... that we'd like to try to fix based on what people see as a priority at the time," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, when presenting the committee amendments on the House floor. Henry chairs the House Appropriations Committee and, as a result, is the lawmakers handling the budget.
The budget, which takes into account the estimated $600 million shortfall for next fiscal year, includes a deep cut to the state's partnership hospitals that treat the uninsured. The exact impact of that cut is disputed by different legislators. Henry said the cut is close to $60 million. Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, meanwhile estimated the impact of the cut is closer to $200 million.
Meanwhile, the TOPS scholarship program is slashed by roughly 52 percent, meaning students will have to cover the costs of more than half of their tuition next year.
"This breaks what I believe was a committee for students who were expecting a fully-funded tuition scholarship for four years of high academic achievement. It creates a hypocrisy that I do not believe is appropriate. That's why I believe we need to work a little harder to get this budget correct," said Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge.
The state's health waivers are one of the programs fully funded under the plan approved Sunday. That means that no one currently receiving a waiver would necessarily be at risk of losing their services come next year. Among other things, those waivers allow the elderly and disabled children to receive treatment at home rather than in an institution.
A DHH spokesman said at least four types of waivers were at risk of being eliminated under a budget plan approved by the full House a few weeks ago. The Senate Finance committee then amended the budget to fully fund the waivers after emotional testimony from the parents of disabled children receiving treatment.
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The plan advanced Sunday is in many ways similar to a budget plan given the thumbs up earlier this week by the Senate. The differences to the roughly $26 billion operating budget that were ironed out in conference committee ultimately amounted to about $5 million.
Under the conference committee amendments, the Attorney General's office will receive $2 million in additional funding next fiscal year. Families Helping Families and the Truancy Assessment Services Center also will receive additional funding, as will the Louisiana Assistive Technology Access Network program that provides technology to people with disabilities.
After both chambers passed the budget Sunday, the governor released a statement that read in part:
Budget negotiations are by no means finished. Lawmakers start a second special session Monday where they can vote to raise more revenue and fill in some of the funding gaps.