Louisiana lawmakers have more money to spend this year than they’ve seen in years, but that doesn’t mean everyone thinks they are getting what they need.
Louisiana’s 10 safety-net hospitals that are supposed to serve people who are poor or lack adequate health insurance say they are short $82.1 million in federal and state funding, under the current state budget plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The Louisiana Superdome is also seeking more money for a massive renovation project, and public school teachers want a bigger raise.
After several years of revenue shortfalls, the state is flush with cash. A week ago, the state revised its revenue projections to include an additional $677 million over the next 14 months. It also has $1.6 billion in federal COVID-19 recovery money to spend in the next year.
The extra money has allowed lawmakers to insert millions of dollars for pet projects into the state spending plan. In the current proposal, there is funding for a Ruston skate park ($125,000), new Ascension Parish high school ($870,000), the National World War II Museum ($500,000) and the city of Central Athletic Foundation ($2 million) — among other local projects.
The Louisiana Senate is expected to vote on the budget plan Thursday. Lawmakers have to finalize their spending proposal by the end of the legislative session June 10.
Here are some details from the groups still seeking more money:
Lawmakers have refused to spend an additional $23.8 million in state funding on Medicaid, which the state’s 10 safety-net hospitals said they need to continue all of their services.
If that $23.8 million is not allocated, it will result in a total loss of $82.1 million because the state will no longer be able to put up money to draw down additional federal funding that would also go to the hospitals. The facilities that would not get the money include University Medical Center in New Orleans, Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge, Ochsner Lafayette General and seven other hospitals.
These hospitals have been threatened with funding reductions in the past, though typically only in years where the state is short on money. This year is unusual because there’s no question the state could afford to give them the extra money.
Senate Finance Committee chairman Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, said there is a consensus that the hospitals might not need all the money they are seeking. The hospitals received federal funding directly for COVID-19 relief in recent months. Many conservative legislators believe the state’s Medicaid budget needs to be curbed, White said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards would like to see the extra $23 million put into the budget for the hospitals.
“We are hopeful the full funding we requested will be added back in for these important partner hospitals, which have already served so many people in Louisiana, especially during the pandemic,” said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Edwards’ budget administrator.
The Edwards administration and New Orleans lawmakers are pushing for Superdome funding to be included in the next budget cycle.
Under an agreement the Edwards administration struck with the Saints to keep the team in Louisiana, the state was expected to allocate $90 million in the next budget cycle toward the Superdome’s massive $450 million renovation. The Superdome is a state-owned building, but it’s managed by a private company, ASM Global.
By the time the budget is finalized June 10, lawmakers said they expect the Superdome to get some funding, but not the full $90 million. The exact amount of money is still under negotiation.
The Superdome and Saints have not typically aren’t use to state funding barriers. Former Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, was a booster for the facility and one of the most powerful legislators in the state for close to 50 years. He shepherded millions of dollars to the Superdome in recent decades, but retired at the beginning of 2020.
Public school teachers
The current budget proposal includes an $800 annual raise for public school teachers and $400 annual raise for public school support staff — but there had been talk for weeks about giving teachers even more money.
Legislators had discussed proposals to give teachers a $1,000 raise during the next school year, but support for that plan appears to have evaporated.
Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said the extra $200 per teacher would have cost the state about $20 million — and needed to be spent elsewhere. He said lawmakers would like to look at raising teacher pay again in the 2022 legislative session.