Lawmakers in the Louisiana House were debating a budget-rebalancing proposal Friday that would slash $188 million from state spending over the remaining four months of the financial year.
The proposal from Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, would cut $128 million more than Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to help eliminate Louisiana's deficit, primarily because it doesn't use any money from the state's "rainy day" fund.
Edmonds acknowledged the cuts would be "uncomfortable" and "painful." But he said: "We find ourselves in desperate times."
Democrats said the availability of $120 million from the rainy day account make such cuts unnecessary. Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, said the health care cuts proposed in Edmonds' plan could be damaging to services.
"No matter whichever way we go, any cut is going to be painful to someone," Edmonds said.
Leger replied: "The difference is we don't have to make the reduction. You've chosen to make the reduction."
Edwards wants to use the reserves. The Democratic governor's proposal calls for cutting $60 million from agencies, using the full $120 million available from the rainy day fund and tapping into $120 million in other available financing to fill holes. He wants to shield colleges, K-12 public schools, state prisons and the state's child welfare agency from slashing. The approach is backed by Senate leaders.
But some House Republicans say Louisiana needs to permanently pare spending, rather than use a savings account to patch through another year, after nine years of repeated financial shortfalls.
"We want to get the state in the proper position where we can end this" cycle, Edmonds said.
House debate Friday comes as the 10-day deficit-closing special session hit its midpoint. Lawmakers have until Wednesday to pull together a final plan to rebalance the $27 billion state operating budget for the financial year that ends June 30.
Edmonds said his plan would spare colleges, prisons, the child welfare agency and the veterans department. But it would cut the Board of Regents, which oversees higher education policymaking. It also would require the Edwards administration to cut $60 million reserved for unfilled state jobs, which could hit some of the agencies not currently earmarked for a specific reduction.
Edmonds said at the start of the fiscal year, agencies were asked to not tap 5 percent of their allocated budgets because of concerns of a potential shortfall. He said his plan would keep agencies in that range or less.
Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said she doesn't think the Republicans pushing Edmonds' plan looked at the impact of the cuts. The House budget committee didn't hear testimony from agency leaders about the proposal before advancing it to the full House for debate.
"Behind every dollar there's a person," Smith said.
Another budget cut proposal awaits debate on the House floor. That plan, sponsored by Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, would use nearly $75 million from Louisiana's "rainy day" fund.