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Excellent budget presses Edwards to defend choices

They did their homework, leaving the Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration and the Legislature’s minority party sputtering with little effective response.

Louisiana’s House of Representatives Republican leadership successfully passed its first hurdle with the fiscal year 2018 budget. HB 1 largely adopts a standstill strategy, meaning some agencies would deal with unfunded mandates, plus shaved 2.5 percent from that previous figure to bankroll for unanticipated revenue shortfalls. It also shifted around dollars to reflect the majority party’s priorities while inviting Edwards to reaffirm or change policy choices within that framework. The reductions total $237 million from the current FY 2017 budget.

More specifically, it took from the Department of Health $235 million, but issued instructions as to where cuts could not come – waiver programs for people with disabilities and not disproportionately made to any one public-private partner charity hospital. It also took from corrections and public safety nearly $29.5 million, the Department of Child and Family Services $19.5 million, more than $18 million from the Department of Education, $20 million from the judiciary, and $11 million from itself.

Beneficiaries included the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, to the tune of $82 million additional to fund it fully, and waiver programs of over $4 million extra. This with the stipulation about Health spending meant that Edwards couldn’t grab the usual hostages in decrying the House not taking more revenues from the people by his threatening to cut waiver programs and TOPS as a consequence.

And getting outflanked infuriated his Administration and allies. They called the budget “micromanagement,” “heartless,” and “irresponsible, dishonest” – the vitriol flowing precisely because now the GOP can box them in completely by publicizing the things Edwards can do on his own or how statutory changes he has supported can alleviate many of the alleged difficulties presented by the spending plan.

Want to wipe out the cut to Health (why is this a problem anyway if Medicaid expansion supposedly brings in so many extra revenues)? Just institute Medicaid cost-sharing that would bring in at least $91 million, lower the income level at which residents may receive free medical care from 200 percent to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level that saves $65 million, and institute Medicaid Managed Long Term Services and Supports that would cuts costs by at least $77 million.

Regarding DCFS, how about preventing working-age unmarried individuals without dependents who don’t work, study, or volunteer from receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program welfare? After the state discontinued this, one of Edwards’ first acts upon entering office restored it. By undoing that, the state can save millions of dollars on administrative costs. Additionally, it can keep tens of millions more by not providing extra payments for additional children born to women enrolled in the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program.

And as far as corrections and public safety, Edwards has backed measures now wending their way through the Legislature that would save at least $9 million next year and with more available for diversion to make up for cuts. It’s even part of his legislative agenda not to spend all revenues.

All of these policy adjustments, except changing sentencing and parole and probation eligibility where he needs legislative assent, Edwards can do himself. So, every time he or his appointees or legislative allies squawk about how reportedly such reductions would ruin lives, the House leadership must remind the public of all these policy options he could mandate that could prevent those presumed problems.

By following through with these choices, Louisiana can live within its means with little disruption to people’s lives and without raising taxes yet again. Legislators need to support what under the circumstances of tight fiscal times is an outstanding budget.

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