BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Republican lawmakers in the House who have shown resistance to raising taxes also have been slow to come up with places they’d recommend slashing government to rebalance Louisiana’s budget.
Senate leaders, both Republican and Democrat, have repeatedly pointed out that House members causing some of the special session logjam have yet to offer a precise list of cuts. Even some of the cuts House leaders suggested they later acknowledged were unworkable, like a proposed reduction that would have nearly shuttered the education department.
Senate President John Alario, a Westwego Republican who wants the House to pass more tax hikes, said he’s willing to listen to budget cut proposals from House members.
“I don’t know where else to go,” Alario said of cuts.
Lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have agreed they’ll make colleges absorb a shortfall in the TOPS free college tuition program. They’ve decided to levy sizable cuts on the corrections and social services agencies. And they’ve trimmed across state government.
Tallying it all up, the governor and lawmakers have agreed to cut $60 million so far and to not fill $67 million in internal shortfalls across state agencies, essentially forcing those agencies to shrink spending.
Additional cuts of about $37 million are being considered by lawmakers.
But that hasn’t come close to filling all the gaps before the fiscal year ends June 30.
The House has agreed to a 1-cent state sales tax hike, a cigarette tax increase and some other modest tax changes to raise dollars for the budget.
Republicans in the chamber have bottled up other tax bills sought by Gov. John Bel Edwards, particularly bills that would force businesses to pay higher taxes. Senators who are more open to taxes are limited because most tax measures must start in the House.
House leaders, however, haven’t offered a complete list of cut suggestions to close remaining gaps of at least $140 million. Those cuts would largely split between public colleges and health care services for the poor, the elderly and the disabled.
Higher education leaders say reductions that large could force them to shutter campuses midsemester, including possibly LSU’s medical schools. The operators of Louisiana’s safety net hospitals say they would either have to ration care or could end their management of the hospitals.
“There is nobody in the Legislature who is proposing cuts that they will stand by and endorse that would solve the problem. And there is nobody in the Legislature putting up the difference in revenue increases that they will stand by and endorse to solve the problem,” Edwards said Friday.
House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who has taken the lead on crafting the House’s cut recommendations, said his committee’s staff is combing through agency budgets to find additional places to cut spending.
“We still need to find more cuts,” he said.
Asked about dire scenarios outlined by agencies, Henry said: “Everyone always gives you the worst-case scenario.”
Urging the House to consider more taxes, Edwards said lawmakers shouldn’t expect a quick fix, like pulling “a rabbit out of a hat.”
“We cannot find a rabbit, and we also cannot find the hat this year,” Edwards said.
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