The Louisiana House passed the annual spending bill last week, but it was no occasion to cheer. The measure calls for $650 million in devastating cuts to health care, higher education and the popular TOPS scholarship program. Voting fell largely along partisan lines, though several Republicans agreed with Democrats that the hospital cuts are catastrophic. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, called the budget "a complete failure. It is unworthy of the people of Louisiana. We can do better."
Unless the bill changes dramatically in the Senate, Edwards says he would veto it. He called for yet another special session to address fiscal issues as soon as the current session ends. Given the GOP-led House's track record, it's not clear that a special session would produce better results.
The good news — if there is any — is that the doomsday budget almost certainly will change in the Senate. The bad news is that
there isn't any real good news here under any scenario.
House Republicans insisted, with some justification, that they had to pass a balanced budget, even if it made draconian cuts. Eviscerating health care for the poor, the elderly, the infirm and children, however, is too steep a price to pay — particularly in a state that consistently falls at the bottom of state-by-state health metrics. The House's budget also would cut $58 million from TOPS, which could jeopardize higher education for students whose families were counting on the scholarship program.
Louisiana has been in a fiscal ditch since the second year of Gov. Bobby Jindal's tenure. Jindal, aided by lawmakers of both parties, played a shell game with state finances, using one-time monies to create the illusion of balanced budgets. Lawmakers have run out of budget gimmicks, yet the House's Republican majority refuses to consider even modest revenue measures. We hope voters will remember who's keeping Louisiana in this mess.