Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has taken a significant step to bolster the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) funding by restoring $100 million.
Governor Edwards adjusted the $45 billion state budget bill through line-item vetoes, which he signed into law on Thursday. The decision to veto specific portions of the budget freed up $125 million, with $100 million allocated explicitly to the LDH. As part of a compromise deal crafted by a conference committee of legislative leaders, lawmakers had cut $100 million from the LDH’s funding. However, many legislators claimed to be unaware of this cut when they voted for the budget. They subsequently called on Governor Edwards to rectify the situation after a hearing to assess the potential consequences. In his veto message, Governor Edwards emphasized the need to protect against devastating program cuts that would have resulted from the loss of funding and federal matching funds.
Based on The Center Square’s article, the total loss, including the federal matching funds, would have ranged between $400 million and $700 million. The impact of such cuts would have been felt across various critical areas, including behavioral health, nursing homes, cancer screenings, public-private partner hospitals, and ambulatory surgical centers. Governor Edwards vetoed a $125 million payment for the state’s initial unfunded accrued pension liability to maintain a balanced budget. Additionally, he restored $50,000 in funding for a business development program, $2 million for the Cancer Research Center, and $7.5 million for early childhood education seats. The decision to restore funds to the LDH aligns with the department’s obligation to provide essential services, making identifying significant areas for cuts challenging.
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Health Secretary Stephen Russo highlighted the difficulties faced during his testimony, explaining that mandatory services under the Medicaid program cannot be cut, while optional services are subject to reduction. The budget negotiations during the legislative session witnessed a struggle between House and Senate Republicans. Conservative members aimed to adhere to the state constitution’s spending cap. At the same time, Senate leadership supported Governor Edwards’ proposal to allocate the state’s $2.2 billion surplus towards teacher raises, coastal restoration projects, transportation, capital improvements, and other one-time expenditures.
Eventually, lawmakers voted to increase the spending cap and allocate the surplus funds. In addition to the LDH funding restoration, Governor Edwards exercised line-item vetoes on various pieces of legislation, including proposals concerning the corporate franchise tax, police safety zones, state employee requirements, teacher compensation, insurance company notifications, school immunization requirements, central bank digital currency, and healthcare pricing transparency. Governor Edwards also intends to reject several bills related to transgender issues. The possibility of a veto override session in Baton Rouge is still under consideration, with some legislators expressing their expectation to convene such a session.