- Associated Press - Sunday, January 29, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Angela Lorio is tired of the begging, tired of the trips to the Louisiana Capitol to plead to shield the services that provide for her disabled son and so many others like him. But she’s gearing up to do it again.

Lorio, whose 3-year-old son John Paul uses a tube to breathe and requires round-the-clock monitoring, is among the many parents who rely on the state for assistance to help them keep their children at home.

“All we’re asking for is to not have to bury some of our children because of budget cuts,” Lorio said. “I am so tired, and I am road weary, battle weary, whatever you want to call it. It’s beyond frustrating. It’s unconscionable.”

Parents like Lorio are readying to pack House and Senate committee rooms, urging lawmakers not to cut those health programs as they look for ways to rebalance Louisiana’s budget and eliminate a $304 million deficit.

They’re among an array of advocacy groups, business organizations, lobbyists and others who use state programs that are worrying about what the budget rebalancing will look like and who will end up on the chopping block.

Gov. John Bel Edwards is planning a mid-February special legislative session to close the deficit, and he’d like to use $119 million from the state’s “rainy day” fund to help lessen the pain of the reductions.

Some Republican lawmakers are hesitant - or have outright balked - at the idea of tapping into a state savings account for a temporary fix, saying Louisiana needs to make permanent cuts to better match the state’s spending to its income.

That would mean steeper cuts and a greater threat to public colleges, K-12 education and health services for the poor, elderly and disabled, which are among the state’s biggest spending areas.

A first draft of a budget-cutting proposal, released by Rep. Lance Harris, leader of the House Republican delegation, got folks jittery - suggesting nearly half the deficit should be eliminated by cutting the state health department and the rainy day fund money shouldn’t be used.

Lorio, co-founder of the group Trach Mommas of Louisiana, quickly got to work, hitting social media sites with pleas to protect the services her son and others with disabilities receive. She wants lawmakers to use the rainy day fund to lessen any cuts.

“To me, that should be a no-brainer,” she said.

The Louisiana Hospital Association, worried about cuts to hospital payments, released a statement citing the jobs and patient care the facilities provide around the state. Individual hospitals did the same.

“It’s important to realize how cuts will further damage Louisiana’s economy. Hospitals are one of Louisiana’s largest private employers, employing nearly 100,000 people directly and 300,000 indirectly,” hospital association president Paul Salles said in a statement. “Severe cuts to an industry so vital to both local and state economies would be short sighted.”

Health care isn’t the only area to draw concern.

Higher education leaders are privately laying out their cases to lawmakers, worried about a second cut after taking a hit earlier this state financial year. The education union Louisiana Federation of Teachers warned that cuts to K-12 public schools “would devastate our cash-strapped education system,” a concern echoed by organizations representing public school principals, superintendents and local school boards.

Nine coastal restoration organizations chimed in, suggesting that cuts to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority could keep it “from effectively playing the essential role of restoring and protecting our coast,” which is vital to the state’s future.

The onslaught of concern demonstrates the difficult task awaiting Edwards and lawmakers in closing the gap in Louisiana’s $27 billion operating budget. No matter where the cuts hit, they will have real impact, compounded because only five months remain before the fiscal year ends June 30 to make the reductions.

Lorio and other parents intend to be in Baton Rouge, reminding lawmakers about their worries.

“We are not going away. We’re going to be there. We’re going to show up,” she said. “We’re going to show up in droves.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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