Cuts being made; services reduced
BY MICHELLE MILLHOLLON
Capitol news bureau
July 06, 2012
A $25.6 billion state operating budget kicked in Sunday, setting in motion prison closures, higher education funding cuts and uncertainty for health-care services.
The spending plan funds colleges, hospitals and other state services in a fiscal year that runs through June 30.
The document is largely the version unveiled by Gov. Bobby Jindal earlier this year. With money short of the amount needed to keep state government services at their current level, the budget draws dollars from expected property sales and various funds to fill in the gaps. Still, cuts had to be made.
“As a whole, there’s just going to be less services. But the critical services, I hope we’re going to continue to have those,” said state Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro and the budget bill’s sponsor.
Tuition increases affecting more than 40,000 Baton Rouge college students will help higher education. However, the state’s public colleges and universities still must sustain $66 million in funding reductions.
“We don’t know exactly what the budget will look like, but it’s hard to think of a scenario where we won’t take a significant cut,” said LSU Chancellor Michael Martin, adding that university officials still are working through how they plan to apply the reduced funding.
Martin said he’s heard the Baton Rouge campus could be in line for an $18 million cut after four years of repeated budget reductions.
“It’s not a trivial matter by any means ... It will not be easy to maintain the success momentum we’ve established to date. If we don’t, that will be a tragedy,” he said. “It would violate the fundamental covenant between the state and the students who come here.”
Across town, Southern University also is grappling with budget reductions at a campus already strapped for cash.
The Southern system absorbed $40 million in state budget reductions during the past four years, with the Baton Rouge campus taking $35 million of those cuts, Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. said.
Mason said he is preparing for $7 million more in cuts across the Southern system.
“It was bad last year and now it’s even worse,” he said.
In health care, legislators received a letter from the Jindal administration in June about the reduction of 1,450 positions, largely because of privatization.
Private companies will care for more developmentally disabled individuals and take over food service at large health care facilities. Staff also will shrink at Central Louisiana State Hospital in Pineville.
“In addition to the above-mentioned workforce reductions, Medicaid will implement a 3.7 percent average program reduction,” state Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein wrote legislators.
As legislators digested the letter, they received news from Washington, D.C., about an $859.2 million cut in fiscal year 2012-13 to the Medicaid program that treats the poor.
The cuts became a reality Friday with the final passage of a transportation bill containing them.
“Because of the action taken by Congress and the loss of this funding, Secretary Greenstein and I are working closely together on a plan,” Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, the governor’s chief budget aide, said by email.
Officials already said the trimming likely will reduce reimbursements for services such as breast and cervical cancer screenings, adult dentures and hospice care. Payments to LSU hospitals, rural hospitals and health care providers also likely will dip.
Fannin said DHH will offer fewer services than in the past.
Among the biggest changes in the corrections budget are the closures of Forcht Wade Correctional Center in Keithville and J. Levy Dabadie Correctional Center in Pineville, resulting in 89 layoffs. The Jindal administration contends the closures will save the state $5.7 million in the current fiscal year.
State Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said Friday that Forcht Wade is empty of prisoners. He said inmates either were discharged, transferred to other prisons or put on work release.
Plans to move Forcht Wade’s 500-bed substance abuse treatment center to a Homer prison evaporated.
Instead, LeBlanc said, prisoners will move to Bossier Parish facilities, where they will receive treatment.
He said the Bossier facilities have room for 400 state offenders. He said the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office will receive nearly $25 a day for each prisoner in its care.
Of Forcht Wade’s 159 job positions, 30 were vacant, he said. LeBlanc said more than 50 workers will transfer to another prison, four will retire and 69 will lose their jobs.
“Unfortunately, it does impact our employees,” he said.
Lt. Bill Davis, spokesman for the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office, said state offenders will move to facilities in Plain Dealing. He said Bossier can house 1,600 inmates and only had 1,000 before the influx of state inmates.
The move will help the parish absorb declines in gambling revenue.
“We have the room. We have the facilities,” Davis said. “That will be a good thing for Bossier Parish, with revenue in mind.”
Legislators resisted the Dabadie closure and put money in the budget to maintain the facility. The governor used his line item veto power to remove the funding.
LeBlanc said Dabadie will close July 27 with 220 offenders moving to Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport.
He said 20 prison workers will lose their jobs, 50 will move to other prisons, 25 will work for the area Sheriff’s Office and 10 will retire.
“We’ve mitigated the layoffs here to a great extent,” LeBlanc said.
For now, Forcht Wade and Dabadie will remain vacant and possibly used as evacuation shelters in the event of a hurricane, he said.
LeBlanc said Forcht Wade will revert back to Caddo Parish’s possession if it remains vacant for two years while Dabadie appears to be largely owned by the Louisiana National Guard.
State Rep. Herbert Dixon, D-Alexandria, lamented the closure of Dabadie.
He said the area also is losing jobs at a center for the developmentally disabled, Central State Hospital and a regional health unit.
“Central Louisiana just can’t continue to absorb these kinds of hits,” Dixon said.
Koran Addo, of the Capitol news bureau, contributed to this report.