A large part of the savings in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s $24.7 billion proposed budget relies on the privatization of LSU’s public hospital system, and some Southwest Louisiana lawmakers said they are concerned because none of the agreements are official yet.
“None of those leases have been signed,” said Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings. “There are memorandums of understanding. If you want to talk about coming back with a midyear budget crisis, those are things that could really come back to haunt us.”
Morrish and Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, sit on the Joint Budget Committee, which met in Baton Rouge on Friday to discuss the budget proposal. Johns said he is concerned about “trying to pinpoint what the savings will be before the leases are signed.”
“We’re very far away from this actually happening,” Johns said. “The bottom line is what was thrown out today is just a start.”
Both Johns and Morrish said they wonder how the state’s savings will be realized, especially if it is based on the assumed sale of excess state property and other contingencies.
“I have some real concerns,” Johns said. “There is a projected $47 million in revenue from the sale of state properties. We’re not sure if that’s going to come to realization.”
Jindal’s budget proposal also calls for using $424 million in one-time money, a tactic that Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, has openly criticized. He said these “accounting gimmicks” eventually lead to “midyear cuts and beginning year shortfalls.”
Morrish said he also has issues with using one-time money, but said it is “not the driving force behind the budget.”
Kristy Nichols, the state’s commissioner of administration, told the committee that higher education would face a 19-percent cut if one-time funds weren’t used.
House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said he is “not a big supporter of one-time money,” but he does not want additional cuts to higher education, health care or other areas.
“The bottom line on one-time money is that I don’t have information on where it’s coming from,” he said. “But we have been in a crisis, and we have to put this (budget) together.”
Kleckley said he was “cautiously optimistic” of the budget presentation.
“It looks like we bottomed out,” he said. “We can see a light at the end of the tunnel. Things are not as bad as they seem.”
The budget also calls for consolidating certain programs that Johns and Morrish said they support. They said the meeting was the first step in a long process before a final budget is approved. The state is constitutionally required to have a balanced budget.
The House Appropriations Committee plans to discuss the budget March 12. Geymann and Rep. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, sit on the committee.
The session begins April 8 and will adjourn June 6.