Good news came to Louisiana’s institutions of higher education this week as the House Appropriations Committee approved a proposal that would give them the same funding they received last year due to a $615 million tax revenue approved by the House. Louisiana’s colleges and universities have dodged the budget cut bullets for the time being, but their gain will mean a shortfall for public health care in the state, write Tyler Bridges and Marsha Shuler of The New Orleans Advocate.
Lawmakers have promised to find enough money before the current session ends to ensure that neither education or health care programs experience budget cuts in the coming year. But Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said four of the measures which were approved last week did not receive the two-thirds vote necessary to raise taxes or repeal tax exemptions already in place. This means that approximately $550 million of the $615 million approved on Thursday could be eligible for a court challenge.
Colleges and universities have been facing a cut of up to 82% and health care will get more money if the Legislature raises more revenue, makes budget cuts elsewhere, or if tax collections are larger than anticipated. Even when factoring in the federal match for state health care dollars, health care comes up short by about $190 million in state aid.
Other government agencies, which expected money to offset planned cuts, included state parks, museums, and agricultural services. Those dollars, however, were not available, reports the Associated Press. Around $180 million more in state financing would be needed to help these programs. On May 21, the entire House will debate the budget in hopes that alternative ways to decrease cuts have been discovered through creating additional tax votes or developing more avenues of revenue.
Privatization deals with the LSU Medical Center need additional dollars if the hospital is to continue providing the expected levels of service to the poor and uninsured. Lawmakers on the committee found ways to add dollars for: a program for newborn and premature babies with severe medical conditions; a New Orleans community clinic program for low-income families; a program that provides help for families of disabled children; assistive technology for people with disabilities; and a youth suicide prevention initiative.
Julia O’Donoghue, reporting for The Times-Picayune, writes that House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) is committing to education.
“Higher education is my number one priority. I want to make sure higher education is fully funded.”
But when the bill hits the Senate floor, some of the House’s initiatives may face resistance. Leaders in the Senate are not likely place higher education over the support of health care. However, Gov. Bobby Jindal continues to believe that both higher education and health care will be appropriately funded by the end of the session on June 11.
“I am optimistic that we can get to a budget that is balanced, that doesn’t raise taxes, that protects health care and higher education,” he said in an interview with reporters last week. “There’s still five weeks left.”