AP Wire

AG Landry says governor’s office stalling his budget request

by Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press

Attorney General Jeff Landry says two of his budget requests to lawmakers are being bottled up by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration, including money Landry says is needed to defend recently-passed abortion restrictions.

Landry wrote to members of the Legislature’s joint budget committee complaining that Edwards’ Division of Administration has stalled the adjustments he wanted lawmakers to consider Friday. The attorney general suggested the delay was politically motivated.

“I believe that we should put the people’s business ahead of politics, and these requests are matters of tremendous importance to the people of this state,” Landry wrote in the letter, released to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said politics had nothing to do with either rejection, but that the decisions were based on broader budget policy.

“He says that every move that’s made is ‘playing politics,’ and that’s simply not the case,” Dardenne said Wednesday. “There are logical explanations.”

The dispute is the latest in a series of clashes between the Republican attorney general and Democratic governor since the two men took office in January. They’ve disagreed over state budgeting, oil spill recovery spending and lawsuits.

Landry’s office, like other state agencies, must seek approval from the Division of Administration and lawmakers on the joint House and Senate budget committee to shift dollars among programs midyear.

The attorney general said he wanted to expand his office’s Medicaid fraud unit with available dollars in his agency and sought $850,000 to defend abortion restrictions passed by lawmakers earlier this year and challenged in a federal lawsuit.

Dardenne said the investigation of Medicaid fraud cases is a joint effort with the legislative auditor’s office and the Department of Health. Landry proposed to hire new staff and outfit them with state vehicles, Dardenne said, but neither of the other agencies had the additional money or extra staff to do the work Landry was suggesting.

“We felt like we needed to be consistent” across all three agencies, Dardenne said.

On the abortion lawsuit, Dardenne said Landry sought to take money from the state health department, which Dardenne said would force cuts in health services.

“He was trying to pick the pocket of the Department of Health to pay for that litigation,” Dardenne said. “He’s got to deal with that in his own budget.”

Louisiana isn’t enforcing the new restrictions — which would triple most women’s waiting period for an abortion to 72 hours and ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure, among other things — while a judge determines whether to block the laws permanently.

“This litigation is complex and will require numerous medical expert witnesses and vigorous defense,” Landry wrote. “The proposed budget is fiscally responsible.”

The disagreement between Edwards and Landry comes after the attorney general earlier this year failed in his efforts to get a breakaway budget bill that wouldn’t have required his midyear financing adjustments to go through the Division of Administration.

The House agreed to the concept, but the Senate rejected it and incorporated Landry’s agency back into the main budget. Critics, including the governor, called the separate budget bill unconstitutional.

Landry referenced the breakaway budget idea in his letter to lawmakers, saying the current midyear budget adjustment process gave the administration “too much control over my budget and interfered with my ability to carry out constitutional duties and, therefore, impeded the operations of the office to which I was duly elected.”