TOPS, K-12 could dodge cuts under proposed budget

John Dupont
Legislators have until June 1 to agree on a budget.

BATON ROUGE – An infusion of federal money during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with a chunk of state set-aside revenue, could help stave off deep cuts to crucial programs under the budget proposal by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The Department of Children and Family Services, K-12 education and the TOP scholarship program will not take cuts under the plan, which would use revenue from the federal CARES Act, along with $90 million from the rainy day fund to eke out a balanced budget.

“It’s a spending plan that I believe is responsible and prudent,” Edwards said. It’s the best I think you can do under the circumstances.

The budget would include $80 million in cuts, which would likely shave off 2 percent from stage agencies, including the Department of Corrections.

It would also slash $22 million from state colleges and $18 million from the Department of Health.

The nosedive in the price of oil and the shutdown during the coronavirus led the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference last week to cut fund expectations for the coming year by nearly $1 billion.

“We knew there were going to be cuts,” state chief financial officer Jay Dardenne said. “We tried to minimize them based on the legitimate use of the CARES Act dollars and that’s why we’re not making a billion dollars-worth of cuts.”

Dardenne will officially present the budget later this week.

The budget proposal could hit a pitfall if proposals to cut taxes and enact spending caps gain approval from lawmakers. If so, legislators would need to enact deeper cuts.

Legislators have until June 1, which leaves them less than three weeks to agree on a spending plan.

REC projections include a $316 million drop in sales tax revenue, along with a $351 million hit on severance taxes and $172 million less from casino and riverboat gambling.

The downfall leaves the state with $11.5 billion, a tumble from the $12.6 billion figure the REC agreed upon in April 2019.