BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edwards signed Louisiana’s more than $28 billion state operating budget into law ahead of the Saturday start of the new financial year, after stripping legislative add-ons that would have limited government agencies’ authority for how to trim spending.
The Democratic governor struck four items with his line-item veto, according to his veto letter released Tuesday, including language that would have protected certain health services from budget cuts and that would have prohibited the Civil Service Commission from blocking pay raises at Louisiana’s levee districts.
Edwards said the provisions could have interfered with a new set of pay scale changes for state employees and would impede the health department’s ability to manage its own budget.
The budget was adopted by lawmakers in a weeklong special session earlier this month after Edwards, the House and the Senate failed to reach a compromise in the regular legislative session. Edwards backed the final version, which was largely written by senators.
The spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 will keep most agencies free of cuts and fully fund the TOPS free college tuition program. Colleges are escaping state financing cuts for the first time in nearly a decade, though many campuses still are raising fees on students for the 2017-18 school year, fees that aren’t covered by TOPS and must be paid out of pocket.
Prisons, state police, public colleges and the child welfare agency are among those areas shielded from reductions. More than 38,000 rank-and-file state workers will get a 2 percent pay raise, the first such across-the-board salary hike in a decade.
A new juvenile prison facility will open in Acadiana, after sitting idle because the state had set aside money for construction but not for annual operating expenses. More than $7 million is paying for partial-year operation to open three of the six dorms at the Acadiana Center for Youth to house up to 36 juvenile offenders.
New dollars will be spent on Louisiana’s K-12 public schools. Increases will pay for growth in student enrollment, higher-need students and dual enrollment programs that help students earn credit toward advanced degrees. Other dollars were added to assist flood-impacted districts.
The Louisiana Department of Health’s budget is growing to more than $13 billion, with $1 billion in new federal financing for the Medicaid program, largely tied to new enrollees and services offered through the
state’s Medicaid expansion.
Some programs, however, will take reductions.
Mental health services will get less money, as will a program for “medically fragile” children and the private operators of Louisiana’s safety-net hospitals and clinics. Cuts to safety-net services could get passed along to the LSU medical schools, whose doctors and students provide the services at the hospitals and clinics. Early childhood education programs also are taking cuts.
Nearly all those who voted against the bill were Republicans, including House GOP leaders, who said they believe the bill spends too much money and likely will set Louisiana up for another round of midyear cuts.
They think the budget was crafted on a state income forecast that is too high. They also said the budget does nothing to help the state address a more than $1 billion gap that hits in the following year when temporary sales taxes expire.
About $60 million will be withheld from state agencies by the Edwards administration as a deficit-avoidance measure, though the administration hasn’t outlined which agencies will be limited in their spending.
Still awaiting a decision from the governor is a $3.8 billion construction budget to pay for projects in the new financial year.