Louisiana agency heads react to House budget cut plan

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A day after House lawmakers advanced a budget cuts plan, Louisiana agency leaders painted a bleak picture as to what the impact could be on the state.

Department heads spelled out the consequences to the Senate Finance Committee during a special Saturday meeting.

"We can't take any more cuts," said Jimmy LeBlanc, the secretary of the Department of Corrections.

LeBlanc said that under the plan passed by the House, he would be forced to make a painful decision: let go of 400 employees or potentially release more than 2,000 prisoners.

Other agency heads were also quick to sound the alarm, including the head of the Department of Education.

"You could lay off every single person who works for me and you would not find $7 million in general fund," said Superintendent John White.

White told lawmakers that his could would amount to putting an end to his department.

Meanwhile, the secretary of the Department of Health said the House plan would force her to put rural hospitals, mental health programs and the adult pharmacy program on the chopping block for reductions.

In committee, she openly criticized House Republicans, who assembled the plan.

"Doing things quickly and without asking agency heads and without going into the programs then causes some sloppiness," Sec. Rebekah Gee said.

In his separate budget proposal, Gov. John Bel Edwards aimed to protect those three agencies from deep cuts. However, doing so required him to tap into the state's savings account as much as possible.

Most Democrats are onboard with tapping into those dollars.

"We need it," said Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge. "We're not in a rain. We're in a hurricane."

However, many Republicans remain cautious about using a lot of those dollars. They want to find more efficiencies now, in hopes of preventing more shortfalls down the road.

"We have to kind of get a grip on those expenses and kind of challenge some of the things we are doing," said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell.

Ultimately, the committee advanced the bill to the Senate floor "without action" - meaning they neither endorse or opposed the plan.

Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said lawmakers need more time to develop amendments to the bill, but wanted to keep the process moving given the short timeframe of the session.

Alario said the plan is for the Senate to amend the cuts bill on the Senate floor Sunday.

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