Covering Louisiana

Jun 15, 2011 10:54 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP

Senators reverse House-backed cuts in $25B budget

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Senators reworked the state's $25 billion budget for next year on Wednesday, proposing to reverse House-backed cuts to health care, prisons and education funding that Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration said were too deep and would damage state services.
The Senate Finance Committee hopes it's found a way to patch the holes without running afoul of House restrictions on the use of one-time money for ongoing expenses. The hurdles were added during the current legislative session by House members pushing to shrink state government and by using a continuing revenue stream.
To make the 2011-2012 spending plans work, senators shuffled dollars and tapped into other one-time funds - but tried to match the money only to items that don't crop up every year, attempting to keep within the confines of the House restrictions.
"We have done everything we can to maintain the spirit of the rule that the House has put in place," said Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, chairman of the Finance Committee. "Obviously, with the budget challenges we've faced this year, not everybody's going to be totally happy, but we think we're restoring the cuts in a responsible manner," he said.
The action, approved without objection in 50 pages of changes, reverses $200 million in cuts levied by the House in its budget plans. Senators have included House leaders in their talks in the hopes of reaching a compromise before the legislative session ends next week.
The full Senate is expected to take up the budget proposal Friday. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
Senators worked with the Jindal administration on how to undo the House cuts after the governor said the reductions would have dire consequences, including the closing of prisons and elimination of health care services for the elderly.
The largest amounts reinserted into the budget bill were for health care. Senators restored money the House stripped from the state's Medicaid program and mental health services.
The move would keep at current levels the rates paid to doctors, hospitals and nursing homes for care of Medicaid patients. State health officials said if the rates were cut further, health providers could stop seeing Medicaid patients.
"These amendments represent our attempt to not disrupt vital services," said Sen. Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport, vice chairwoman of the committee.
The committee didn't restore any "contingency" dollars tied to separate legislation that has yet to pass, which the House stripped because lawmakers argued it was inappropriate to spend money they weren't sure they would have.
As it heads to the Senate floor, the budget closes a more than $1 billion gap with a mix of cuts, one-time patches and a projected boost in some federal funding.

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