Gov. Bobby Jindal's commissioner of administration Paul Rainwater testifies on HB 1 in front of the Senate Finance committee. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 10:54 AM
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy accused Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration Tuesday of using scare tactics to drum up support for restoring hundreds of millions of dollars to next year's budget.
In a letter to Jindal, Kennedy asked his fellow Republican to "stop scaring our health care and higher education communities" about the $268 million stripped from next year's $25 billion budget by House GOP lawmakers.
"It is not necessary to make the draconian reductions to the health care and higher education budgets you and your staff have suggested in order to achieve the fiscally responsible goals of the House," Kennedy wrote.
The treasurer again pushed ideas he has proposed for the last several years of budget reductions. He said the state can eliminate vacant jobs, reorganize departments, reduce consulting contracts and more aggressively collect outstanding debts owed the state, which he said would cut the money without harming critical services.
Jindal's top budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, said the cuts proposed by the House were unworkable and would force the governor's financial office to strip dollars for health services and college campuses. The governor's spokesman Kyle Plotkin dismissed Kennedy's ideas.
"John Kennedy has a long history of using numbers that don't add up and proposing the same-old, same-old half-baked gimmicks. There's nothing new here. These gimmicks haven't worked before, and they aren't going to work now. He's just one confused politician," Plotkin said in a statement.
Health care and university leaders have outlined dire consequences of the House money slashing to senators who are considering whether to restore the $268 million to the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
In higher education, they described college campuses pushed to financial emergency, widespread faculty and staff layoffs, increased class sizes, programs eliminated and medical training programs jeopardized with loss of accreditation.
In health care, officials said they would close a state-run psychiatric hospital, shutter a program that aids families with children who have hearing, speech and motor control problems, strip all state funding for school health centers and eliminate an optional Medicaid program that treats breast and cervical cancer patients.
Conservative Republicans in the House removed $268 million considered one-time financing, saying dollars that aren't certain to reappear each year shouldn't be used to pay for ongoing services and programs.
The Jindal administration, GOP House Speaker Chuck Kleckley and Democrats unsuccessfully fought the removal of the funding, and several Republican members of the Senate have suggested it should be restored.
The House version of next year's budget gives a list of places the governor's budget office should consider reducing, such as travel and supplies, vacant jobs, overtime pay and consulting contracts — but gives Rainwater the discretion to choose.
Rainwater said he couldn't reach the savings needed from each of the items listed by the House and didn't want to use one-time fixes recommended in the House budget, like two furlough days for each state employee, to balance next year's spending plans.
Kennedy said the state spends more per juvenile prisoner than the Southern average, overspends on the LSU-run charity hospitals and pays for too many mid-level managers that other states don't have.
"We can reduce state spending, balance the budget responsibly and address our long-term fiscal problems without hurting or needlessly frightening the citizens in our health care delivery system or our colleges and universities," Kennedy wrote.
He urged a comprehensive review of each funding dedication and tax break on Louisiana's books, asking the governor to set up a six-month review of the items, followed by a special legislative session to determine which ones should be removed.
• Online: House Bill 1 and can be found at www.legis.la.gov