BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A state-run psychiatric hospital in central Louisiana shuttered. A program that aids families with children who have hearing, speech and motor control problems eliminated. College campuses pushed to financial emergency. Medical training programs threatened with loss of accreditation.
Higher education and health care leaders outlined dire consequences to senators Monday of the $25 billion budget proposal passed by the House for next year. The plan contains $268 million less in state funding than what was sought by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
"Cuts of this magnitude, in my opinion, cause me to question whether we really do value postsecondary education in this state," said University of Louisiana System President Randy Moffett.
Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein said he'd have to shut down programs that treat the poor, uninsured and most vulnerable state residents, and he said the cuts could force people into more expensive care that will cost the state more money in later years.
"This will impact everyone's quality of life and their health outcomes at the end of the day," he said.
The Jindal administration is hoping the Senate will restore the funding, which was stripped by GOP lawmakers in the House who didn't want to use patchwork, one-time money to pay for continuing expenses and programs in the budget year beginning July 1.
The Republican governor, GOP House Speaker Chuck Kleckley and Democrats unsuccessfully fought the removal of the funding in the House. But several Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee criticized removal of the money.
"You're cutting your nose off to spite your face. People are suffering for political ideology," said Rep. Norby Chabert, R-Houma.
The House budget gives a list of places the governor's budget office should consider reducing, such as travel and supplies, vacant jobs, overtime pay and consulting contracts — but gives Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater the discretion to choose.
House Republicans said the dollars can be cut from salaries and expenses without damaging critical services, and they included language in the budget bill that spelled out that Rainwater should make reductions that "cause no impact to critical services." They didn't define what that means.
Rainwater said he couldn't reach the savings needed from each of the items listed by the House and didn't want to use one-time fixes recommended in the House budget, like two furlough days for each state employee, to balance next year's spending plans.
"The practical impact of the House's actions will be to cut higher education and health care despite the fact that there are available funds," Rainwater told the Senate Finance Committee.
He said higher education would take cuts topping $200 million, and he said $500 million in planned increases in health department funding to help keep up with medical inflation wouldn't happen. Any state funding cut to Louisiana's Medicaid program also causes the loss of federal matching dollars, magnifying the impact of the reduction.
"These cuts are very problematic. An additional $200 million for the year would really put us on the edge," said Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell. "The higher education landscape will be fundamentally changed if this budget is not adjusted."
College leaders said they'd have to eliminate programs, harm graduation rates, lay off thousands of faculty and staff, reduce scholarships, shut down research stations and increase class sizes. They said several campuses could be pushed into financial emergency status.
And they said the slashing could chase away professors and students already worried about previous rounds of budget cuts in higher education.
"The effects would be on the brink of cataclysm," said LSU System President William Jenkins.
Greenstein said he would close a mental hospital in central Louisiana, strip state funding for school-based health centers, eliminate an addictive disorder treatment program and shut down an early intervention program for children up to 3 years old who are having troubles in speech, vision and motor control development.
An optional Medicaid program that treats breast and cervical cancer patients would be shuttered.
"These are not meant to scare anyone," Greenstein said. He added, "We're actually giving the best case scenario."
Doctors, hospitals and other health providers would face cuts on average of nearly 10 percent in the rates they are paid for caring for Medicaid patients, a reduction that Greenstein said could mean some providers stop taking Medicaid patients entirely.
Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington, R-Keithville, said people who don't get treated in clinics by primary care doctors will have to get more costly attention in emergency rooms. She said that just shifts costs and makes treatment more expensive.
"In order to stay afloat, private providers will have no choice but to raise costs, and those costs — I think it's important for us to acknowledge — will be raised on the private sector, onto small businesses," Buffington said. "The costs will be borne by every taxpayer."
Children and Family Services Secretary Ruth Johnson said she would close 31 child welfare offices, lay off child support enforcement staff and eliminate all evacuation shelter contracts for emergencies.