LA legislators reach deal to eliminate state's $304 million budget deficit

State Capitol (Source: WAFB)
State Capitol (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana lawmakers have given final passage to a compromise deal eliminating the state's $304 million budget deficit. Overall, the plan includes just over $80 million in cuts and unlocks $99 million from state savings.

The plan spared some of the governor's priorities from cuts, including higher education, the Department of Corrections, K-12 public schools, and the Department of Children and Family Services.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture and the Attorney General's office each take a hit. The biggest overall cut will come from the Department of Health, with partnership hospitals that treat the uninsured each seeing a reduction in funding.

"It wasn't pretty, and in many respects it was harder I think than it needed to be," Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a press conference after the session wrapped up. "I believe we have demonstrated that we are able to constructively work together."

Much of the debate over the past few days centered on whether to use money from the "Rainy Day Fund." The governor wanted to unlock as much money as possible - $119 million. House Republicans meanwhile wanted to use little to no state savings. They preferred cuts instead. Ultimately, the two sides reached a compromise at $99 million.

"It's a little bit more of the rainy day money than what I wanted to spend, but obviously it's less than what the governor wanted to spend. So that's kind of how a compromise is reached," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie. Henry serves as the chair of House Appropriations.

In exchange for unlocking those dollars, the Senate and Democrats agreed to adopt a resolution aimed at reducing state spending starting next year. The resolution shuffles money around, and effectively acts as a cut to various state agencies, including the Department of Education, Corrections, and more. TOPS would also take a hit, though lawmakers wish to backfill any cut to the scholarship.

Finally, to prevent further cuts, the plan also takes into account $11.9 million in "attrition" savings – in other words, money saved when people retire, leave, or are fired and the job is not filled. The governor and several lawmakers worry that money will not materialize and they will be forced to cut more down the road to compensate.

"In the end, I think probably the right thing has happened, it just took twice as long as it could have," said Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.

Lawmakers return for the regular session in April, at which point they are expected to discuss budget and tax reform.

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