BATON ROUGE – The upcoming special session will allow lawmakers another chance – and maybe not the last – to halt deep cuts to the state healthcare system, the Commissioner of Administration for the Governor’s Office said Monday.
The failure to fund Medicaid proved that budget cuts alone would not remedy the state’s fiscal woes, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne told the Press Club of Baton Rouge at its weekly luncheon Monday at the Argosy Atrium.
“Pundits who say we need to live within our means are now being proven wrong,” he said. “The budget passed by the House simply ignored the healthcare needs of the state and will not fund the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals to the level needed to provide optional services.”
Dardenne addressed the Press Club three hours before Gov. John Bel Edwards made the official call for the session, which will begin May 22. The extraordinary session – which will allow for creation of new revenue – will come after an early end to the regular session on May 18 and would continue up to 11:59 p.m. June 4.
The budget will likely require a combination of cuts and new revenue. The state must close a $648 million gap in the budget – based on the Revenue Estimating Conference projections – which will appear after the temporary one-cent sales tax expires June 30.
The budget will also include $120 million in new cuts, all to the general fund.
“There won’t be a miracle fix on this budget … there’s no way to fix this budget,” Dardenne said. “The only responsible way to do that will be to replace the revenue that rolls off the books July 1.”
Gov. Edwards could summon lawmakers back to Baton Rouge after the special session if they fail to reach a compromise on the 2019 budget, which takes effect July 1.
“We need to fix this, and we need to fix it now, and we’re not looking for a temporary solution to get us through an election year,” Dardenne said. “The message Louisiana needs to send is that we’re fixing our problems in a permanent, responsible way and not by kicking the can down the road.
“If there was an national association of can-kickers, Louisiana would be a charter member,” he said.
Dardenne visited the Press Club on the heels of a state Department of Health and Hospitals mailout to 37,000 state Medicaid recipients to inform them they may lose coverage due to budget cuts.
The state acted in the best interests of the recipients when they issued the notices, Dardenne said.
The recipients needed adequate time to seek other services or find living arrangements outside of a nursing home.
“Rather than a simple phone call that it may happen, we put them on notice through a letter that it may happen – and it could very well happen,” Dardenne said. “It was properly worded with a lot of careful thought.”
The mailout reached recipients amid the ongoing stalemate between House Democrats and most Republicans over a budget which includes $650 million in cuts, with the bulk of the reductions coming from healthcare.
House and Senate Republicans deemed the mailout a “scare tactic.”
“Had it been done for a scare tactic, we’d have sent them out to one million people rather than 37,000,” Dardenne said. “We regret having to do it because we didn’t want to reach this point, and that’s why we had a special session earlier this year.”
Others considered the move premature, but Dardenne said he and Gov. Edwards had originally planned to mail the notices May 1.
Gov. Edwards sharply criticized the $28 billion budget the House approved in April, which passed mainly along party lines.
Dardenne hopes the session brings a renewed sense of compromise, something he said has become a rarity at the State Capitol.
“Compromise hasn’t disappeared, but it’s under a lot of stress,” he said. “It’s not a dirty word, nor does it recognize weakness.
“It’s a recognition for the greater good and for the people you represent and shows that the public is served better by the agreement of both parties rather than by leaving a devastating impact on what we can’t fix in six weeks,” Dardenne said.