Jindal administration outlines ways to save

From circling employment ads for inmates to decreasing the thickness of asphalt on roadways, the Jindal administration presented legislators with $74 million in cost-cutting ideas Monday.

The Cameron Parish ferry no longer would cross the Calcasieu River 24 hours a day. The number of toll-free numbers in state government would decrease. Pregnant woman on Medicaid could use midwives or doulas to deliver their babies.

The ideas are part of a larger effort to cut $500 million across state government.

The $74 million in cuts represent contractors’ suggestions on how to save money.

Members of the state Senate Finance Committee expressed doubts.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, who is Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top budget adviser, attempted to eliminate their concerns.

“Every (cabinet) secretary signed off on the savings,” Nichols said.

The savings come from a $4.2 million contract the Jindal administration signed last year with Alvarez and Marsal.

The New York global management firm — which hired its own contractor, Public Works — is supposed to find $500 million in savings across state government.

Nichols told the state Senate Finance Committee that the contract’s final report will be submitted at the end of May, a month behind schedule. She said extra time was needed to study the state Department of Health and Hospitals and the state Department of Children and Family Services.

Among the ideas that would be implemented in next year’s $25 billion budget are making low-risk inmates in Jefferson and Orleans parishes earn their keep by working, reducing maintenance units at the state Department of Transportation and Development, and allowing the partners of expectant women to receive sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment.

Transitional work programs are among several ideas aimed at saving the state Department of Corrections $9.4 million. Low-risk inmates would serve the last portion of their sentences in minimum-security facilities, such as parish prisons run by sheriffs.

The inmates would work in the community, give part of their paycheck to the prison operator and save the state money for their room and board.

The program only would be implemented in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

In Cameron Parish, the 24-hour ferry would start running 16 to 18 hours a day. DOTD would use a new material embraced by Texas to overlay roadways with 1-inch thick asphalt instead of 2-inch thick asphalt. Both ideas would help DOTD save $10.9 million.

Two Senate Finance Committee members vowed to discuss the cost-saving recommendations with cabinet secretaries, especially with DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas.

State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, said the ferry is needed in southwest Louisiana. A detour by road takes 120 miles.

“It’s the only lifeline of travel along Highway 82. We’ll get with the department on that,” Johns said.

State Sen. Fred Mills, R-St. Martinville, expressed concerns about the DOTD maintenance unit reduction as well as the asphalt change.

He predicted cane trucks will knock down the less-thick asphalt.

Mills said the state already lacks enough maintenance units.

Nichols clarified the savings, saying it only will affect how DOTD equipment is repaired. Mills suggested bringing in agency heads to talk about the recommendations.

“This looks like laboratory language. I’d like to see if this can be done,” Mills said.

Nichols said every cabinet secretary agreed to the savings ideas, including LeBas.

State Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, questioned how the state is going to reduce the number of low-weight births through downsizing efforts. He said Louisiana leads the country in low-weight births.

“I don’t understand. We’re going to be able to cut and make it better?” LaFleur asked.

Nichols said it’s not a cut. She said the state is adding a service to test and treat the partners of pregnant women in government health care programs for STDs.

Nichols said STDs result in pre-term births.