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Reports on Louisiana politics, government and the people shaping state policy

Louisiana governor reverses last-minute health care budget cut

Wallis Watkins / WRKF

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced on Thursday that he restored $100 million in state budget funding to the Department of Health. Lawmakers had cut that funding in a last-minute decision on the final day of this year’s session.

Edwards used his line-item veto power to restore the $100 million to health care in House Bill 1 — the state’s major budget bill — which Edwards signed on Thursday. The budget he signed controls spending for this fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Edwards moved more than $100 million that lawmakers had allocated to pay off state retirement debt to reverse the health care funding reduction and allocated an additional $7.5 million to early childhood education programs.

In a press conference on the last day of session, Edwards criticized the last-minute cut to health care. He called it “ridiculous” amid the state’s $2.2 billion surplus and immediately promised to use everything in his power to reduce or completely eliminate the cut.
Lawmakers who helped both negotiate and pass the budget expressed regret about the reduction as they realized the profound impact it could have on health care access for Louisianans.

The actual cut could have been seven times larger because of lost federal matching dollars, state health officials told lawmakers on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee last week. Officials said thousands of residents, including children, would likely have lost access to mental health care.

“We did some things that should never have been done, especially when you have surpluses like this,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bodi White, R-Central, said in the same meeting. “And I take part responsibility. I signed that conference committee report with two minutes to go before 6 p.m., but I didn’t have much time, and I had no idea what was in it.”

White was one of six lawmakers negotiating the budget behind closed doors with just hours left in the session on June 8. Those lawmakers released their budget compromise with less than an hour left in the session, leaving other lawmakers no time to review changes before voting.

Molly Ryan is a political reporter and covers state politics from the Louisiana Capitol.