Louisiana lawmakers delay vote on budget cuts

Louisiana lawmakers delay vote on budget cuts

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - State lawmakers decided to wait until December before making decisions on what to cut in order to fix the state's $300 million shortfall.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were hesitant about the governor's plan to cut more than $18 million from higher education.

"This is an onerous task that is being asked of us in the wake of TOPS," said Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe.

In the spring, TOPS takes a big hit, leaving students to foot more than half of their tuition.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor's budget chief, defended the planned cuts saying they had warned colleges to brace for budget reductions earlier in the year.

"This is not nearly at the level which they had been asked to plan for," Dardenne said.

Under the plan, the LSU system would see a $8.5 million cut, while the Southern system would be down just over $1 million.

Latest estimates have the state short $313 million after taxes failed to generate as much money as expected during the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

Corporate tax revenues alone were 31 percent lower than anticipated. Income tax revenues were 3.5 percent lower, while sales tax revenues were 1 percent lower.

The governor's plan to fix the budget also includes a cut to the Department of Health (LDH), amounting to more than $200 million in state dollars. Some thought it should be more.

"The truth is, everything is competing with LDH for dollars and LDH is winning all the battles. It's time to put it on a level playing field," said Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville.

The LDH undersecretary warned that a larger cut could put programs that help disabled children and adults in jeopardy.

Hoping to negotiate on some of the reductions, lawmakers deferred any decisions on the budget until December. The governor also agreed to not invoke any of the cuts through executive action until then.

Some thought that delaying the cuts was a mistake.

"No matter what we do, somebody is not going to get paid, somebody's going get hurt -- that's what cuts are," said Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans. "And to mislead the public that there's some secret money tree we're going to shake in the backyard, or there's some agency that has secret money to do this, I think is misleading the public."

In December, things may be worse. Days before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget will meet, lawmakers will get a first glimpse into how tax collections are going for the current fiscal year.

Dardenne suggested that there may be another big shortfall that could range anywhere from $100 million to $500 million. That means even deeper cuts.

Copyright 2016 WAFB. All rights reserved.