“What you have before you are a list of cuts that we should not make. They are not in our state’s best interest,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said as he presented his proposed budget for the next fiscal year to the Joint Budget Committee Monday. As required by the state constitutional requirement for a balanced budget, the proposal reduces state spending by $994 million.
“This is what falling off the cliff looks like,” Edwards said of the plan that reduces TOPS funding by $233-million (80 percent), and cuts $657 million in state funds from health care. Those reductions would hit the public-private partner hospitals, as well as services for the elderly and disabled.
Those details were delivered by Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, after the governor spoke. Edwards spent much of his time before the panel urging them to agree on a plan for fixing the revenue drop-off, with a special session next month. Not everyone was buying in, however.
“The options that you tend to go to are those that have to do with revenue,” Senator Sharon Hewitt stated. “So let’s talk about the things that you’ve done to look at expenses.”
“Senator, I have cut over $600-million State General Fund in the two years since I’ve been governor,” Edwards responded to the Slidell Republican, whose name is on the list of potential gubernatorial candidates for 2019.
“I do not believe the $600-million number is real, because I’m having a hard time reproducing those numbers,” Hewitt responded.
“I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you – and I’m not trying to be ugly about that,” the governor replied.
Hewitt informed him she found that offensive.
Senator Conrad Appel asked the governor about the state's “failure” last week, “losing both the Amazon headquarters and a major auto manufacturing plant.”
Edwards fired back, “That's because this body has for years dis-invested in higher education, needed for a prepared workforce.” It was a direct jab at the Metairie Republican, who chaired the Senate Education committee under former governor Bobby Jindal.
Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry had questions about the fixes Edwards has proposed, asking, “Do we have any fiscal notes that will show that it raises the $994 million?”
“All of those bills were submitted last year, and fiscal notes were generated last year,” the governor replied. “Not that they’re going to be the same, but they’re going to be close enough.”
However, there are no bills now filed to fix the cliff, since such measures are prohibited from consideration in the upcoming regular legislative session. No bills, therefore there can be no legislative fiscal notes. Still Henry pressed the issue.
“If you give us those specific fiscal notes I think we’ll get a lot further along the way, the Appropriations chair insisted.
“Well, the Fiscal Office works for you,” the governor replied. “It doesn’t work for me.”