Lawmakers clear up $313 million budget hole, spare higher ed deep cuts

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Lawmakers agreed to a plan cutting $313 million from state agencies in order to clear up a shortfall left over from last fiscal year's budget.

"It's like a nightmare that won't ever end, it's like Groundhog Day," said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, referring to yet another round of cuts to state agencies.

The plan spares higher education from big cuts proposed last month by the governor. Using one-time money, lawmakers agreed to a plan reducing the hit to state universities from $18 million to $12 million.

"Higher ed was the sticking point, nobody wants to cut them further," said Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego.

Under the plan, the Southern system takes a $700,000 hit. The LSU system, meanwhile, takes a cut of close to $5.6 million. It's LSU's 16th cut in nine years, according to LSU president F. King Alexander.

"This is, I think, an appropriate and good compromise that reflects in the spirit of the season what can happen when we all come together," said commissioner of administration, Jay Dardenne, the governor's budget chief.

The Department of Health is also taking a large hit as part of the plan, amounting to about $250 million. Part of that is from delaying a payment to healthcare provider that treats Medicaid patients until the 2017-2018 fiscal year. It costs $152 million.

The undersecretary of LDH described the cuts as manageable for now. However, any additional cuts could put things like healthcare waivers that help disabled children in jeopardy. Dardenne warned those cuts are coming.

"I have to be honest with you, it's not getting higher ed out of the woods a month of now. Nobody's out of the woods a month from now when we face the inevitable shortfall we're going to see in this budget year," Dardenne said.

Earlier this week, state economists projected the state will be short anywhere from $260 million to $460 million for the current fiscal year ending in June.That could mean yet another cut to state agencies sometime in January or February.

"The legislature is reacting to what the public wants to do. If the public doesn't want to give the money, we only have what we have and that's the reality," said Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington.

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