- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Thinner asphalt for some paving projects. Fewer toll-free numbers across state agencies. Allowing pregnant women on Medicaid to use midwives instead of traditional, more expensive delivery rooms. Expanded rehabilitation programs for inmates.

Those are among plans from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration to shrink spending across state government by $74 million in the upcoming budget year that begins July 1.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said the ideas came from a consulting firm hired to find ways to cut state costs without eliminating services. The savings expectations were included in the House-approved version of next year’s nearly $25 billion budget.

Nichols outlined the plans Monday to the Senate Finance Committee, which was reviewing House spending recommendations for the 2014-15 budget year.

“Every single secretary has signed off on these savings,” Nichols told senators.

Jindal proposed his budget in January. But gaps in education and prisoner care appeared. The House rebalanced the spending plans and removed some patchwork financing it disliked.

To make the numbers work, the House proposes asking the governor’s Division of Administration to cut state spending across agencies by $140 million.

Nichols outlined plans to deal with more than half of that, $74 million, through the “efficiencies” proposed by consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal, hired by the Jindal administration under a $5 million contract.

She said caseloads will be reallocated in the Office of Juvenile Justice, the state police will reorganize its command structure and business functions of the state transportation department will be consolidated to regional offices.

Insurance policies will be changed for ferries and barges, and operating hours will be reduced for a ferry in Cameron Parish, she said. The health department will expand its disease management efforts to try to catch diseases more quickly. Another 140 state jobs will be cut.

Sherry Phillips-Hymel, the Senate’s chief budget analyst, said if some of the efficiencies don’t pan out, the administration would have to find other budget cuts, under the House version of the spending plans for next year.

Meanwhile, the planned savings efforts also won’t reach the full cuts required under the House-approved budget bill.

To address the other half of the reductions, House lawmakers proposed that the Jindal administration shrink state contracts by $25 million and cut $12 million across agencies to match the historical spending patterns of the departments.

They recommended removing more than $17 million for vacant jobs so departments won’t be able to fill them and reducing overtime spending by $2 million. Another $7 million in savings would be expected from a planned computer consolidation across agencies.

The Division of Administration, however, would be given discretion in how to divvy up those cuts across departments.

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