Jindal signs budget bill, vetoes money for the disabled and the arts

Funding for the disabled and arts programs fell out of the $25 billion state spending plan Friday with the stroke of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s veto pen.

The governor deleted $4 million aimed at whittling down a waiting list for home-based services for the developmentally disabled. Parents of disabled children pleaded with legislators during the session to shorten the list. Some could wait 10 years before receiving services.

In his veto message, Jindal said the reduction in waiting time could not be accommodated because legislators removed too much funding for the routine increase in the number of patients being treated through Medicaid, the government program that pays for health care for the poor.

The Jindal administration contended the Legislature underfunded the state’s health department by more than $20 million.

“In light of the legislative reduction to Medicaid utilization, this program expansion cannot be funded,” Jindal wrote again and again as he deleted lines in House Bill 1, the state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

After issuing the vetoes, the governor flew to California for Republican National Committee meetings.

Jindal also stripped money for children’s clinics, family violence programs and an organization that helps the disabled become more independent through technological tools.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, urged his Twitter followers to tally up the cuts.

“Wow?? Governor sticks it to the disabled community. Match up the line item cuts to HB1 and see what you get. Yikes,” he tweeted.

The budget signed by the governor represents a compromise that the House and the Senate reached in the final days of the legislative session earlier this month.

Jindal proposed a spending plan that heavily relied on property sales, legal settlements and other one-time dollars to fund expenses that must be met year after year.

Legislators worked behind closed doors to craft an alternative. The final version reduced the amount of one-time money, created a tax amnesty program and gave public schoolteachers a state-funded pay raise for the first time in several years.

“We’ve made an investment of an additional $69 million in K-12 education, half of which will go toward teacher pay raises,” the governor wrote.

In addition to the vetoes, the governor signed bills sought by a faction of Louisiana House Republicans known as the “fiscal hawks.” The bills were part of the budget compromise and will make it harder in the future to use one-time dollars for expenses that must be met year after year.

“We are glad to have the bills signed and are hopeful the budget reforms will help us craft a more stable and reliable budget in the years to come,” said state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles and the fiscal hawks’ leader.

The governor also signed House Bill 456, which will give taxpayers an incentive for settling their tax disputes with the state.

He vetoed bills aimed at setting up a legal framework for surrogacy births and funding infrastructure improvements for the Juban Crossing development in Livingston Parish.

By far, he saved most of his ink for the state operating budget, a 315-page document that he spent roughly two weeks reviewing in between appearances for his statewide tour.

Jindal’s health department warned Friday that funding shortages will mean cuts next budget year, including reduced reimbursement for dentists treating Medicaid patients.

Kay Marcel, who represents the concerns of families with disabled relatives, questioned whether the governor has an alternative plan for reducing the waiting list for home-based services after he stripped funding that was supposed to shorten the list. “The Legislature felt we could afford it,” Marcel said.

As the state’s cultural leader, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne lamented $500,000 in cuts to grants that fund festivals and artistic endeavors. “It is clearly something the Legislature felt was important enough to create jobs and stimulate the economy,” he said.

Dardenne said the governor ignored his suggestion for reducing the state’s expenses. The lieutenant governor recommended vetoing money the Legislature added for Baton Rouge’s Bayou Country Superfest. The deletion would have saved the state $200,000, or nearly half of the money the governor cut for arts programs that touch every parish in the state.