Posted: Feb 22, 2013 4:36 PM by AP
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal's $24.7 billion budget proposal for next year pours hundreds of millions in patchwork funding into public colleges and assumes hefty savings from the privatization of LSU hospitals to make the numbers work.
The governor's spending plan for the 2013-14 fiscal year was unveiled to lawmakers Friday by Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, who described it as a challenge to close a more than $1 billion gap.
"We made every effort we can to be smart about the way we deliver services in government," Nichols told the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.
Jindal's budget assumes millions of dollars in property sales, savings from legislation that hasn't passed and the management turnover of most LSU public hospitals to private facilities to stay in balance.
Lawmakers, weary of five years of budget deficits, questioned those assumptions and pressed for more details about the uncertain financing.
"What if the property sales don't happen or any of those types of contingencies? Are we going to be faced with another midyear budget cut?" asked House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles.
Sen. Francis Thompson worried about the loss of health care services in his region because the governor's budget assumes that the LSU hospital in Monroe will be taken over by a private hospital and state funding is stripped for most of the year.
No plan is in place with a so-called "private partner" for the Monroe hospital, however.
"We're not even saying who that somebody is. I've got to have more than that," said Thompson, D-Delhi.
Nichols replied, "We have not put anything in the budget that isn't expected to fully materialize."
"That's not good enough to me," Thompson said. He added, "I'm concerned. The people of this state should be concerned. That's not the way you plan a budget, in my opinion."
Nichols pledged that the services offered at the university health care facilities will continue.
The governor's spending plans assume at least $781 million in savings from the privatization of eight of the 10 university-run public hospitals, even though the contracts aren't final and some deals haven't even been announced.
For the public colleges, Jindal relies on $424 million in one-time sources of money, such as property sales and bond refinancing, and $75 million in tuition increases to keep Louisiana's colleges funded at their current level.
Jindal's budget includes minimal cuts to the health department and would keep spending rates flat for public schools. It would cut more than 10,000 government jobs - 7,300 of those for the LSU hospital workers who would be laid off and required to reapply for their positions with the private managers.
Release of the proposal kicks off the start of legislative budget negotiations. House budget committee hearings are set to open March 12.