La. lawmakers spend surplus, pass construction budget
By MELINDA DESLATTE
BATON ROUGE — In a flurry of last-minute approvals, Louisiana lawmakers signed off Thursday on spending deals that will finance state construction work next year, address a recent Supreme Court ruling and direct a state surplus to fill a Medicaid funding gap.
A nearly $5 billion construction budget will continue work on ongoing projects, but it has nearly $330 million in new projects that the state can afford to start in the fiscal year that begins July 1. That leaves the governor to pick and choose which ones get funding.
“It’s not in the best shape it’s ever been,” state Rep. Joel Robideaux, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said of the measure.
Lawmakers approved it anyway, sending it to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk.
Meanwhile, the House and state Senate also backed a plan that will use a $113 million state surplus to fill a gap in this year’s Medicaid program, rather than repay the state’s “rainy day” fund.
A group of conservative House Republicans wanted the dollars to replenish the Budget Stabilization Fund, but they gave in on that point as part of a larger budget compromise to balance next year’s spending plans.
Current law required any surplus money from the 2011-12 fiscal year, up to $205 million, be used to replenish the rainy day fund, which was tapped to address a previous deficit. But a bill that received final passage will repeal that provision.
The decision to change the flow of the surplus came after Congress cut Louisiana’s federal Medicaid financing, blowing a hole in this year’s health care budget.
Jindal addressed only part of the budget hole after the congressional change was announced in July — and pushed to use the surplus to balance the rest, letting the issue linger for months as the fiscal year wound down.
“If you don’t address it, I don’t know how you make that adjustment with two weeks to go in the fiscal year. We all said we wanted that money to go into the rainy day fund. It rained. It’s storming,” said Senate President John Alario, D-Westwego.
In the same measure, lawmakers also stripped funding for the state’s voucher program out of the public school formula, to respond to a recent Louisiana Supreme Court ruling on the state’s voucher program that declared it unconstitutional to pay for vouchers that way.
Vouchers were still funded, just with state general fund money.
Lawmakers also agreed to use dollars from an improved revenue forecast to fill gaps in this year’s public school financing formula.
Also in the bill was upfront lease payment money from privatization deals for several LSU-run hospitals that care for the poor and uninsured. Those dollars will be used to cover a current year shortfall in funding to the hospital system.
With those changes, legislative leaders said they balanced the budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30.