OLA funding could be cut: State trying to fix $600M budget hole

Published 6:47 am Wednesday, June 1, 2016

On Monday, state lawmakers stripped state funding from Bogalusa’s hospital.

The state is still facing a $600-million deficit in the next fiscal year, which starts in July. To close that gap, the Senate Finance Committee cut funding to the state’s nine hospitals for poor and uninsured patients. This includes Our Lady of the Angels. The hospitals were spared any cuts when the House passed its budget earlier this year.

The Senate is expected to vote on the budget on Wednesday. After that, the Senate will reconcile its budget with the House.

The hospital depends on state funding to keep its doors open. However, this will not be the final word on the subject.

On Friday, Gov. John Bel Edwards called for a special session that will begin immediately after this session ends June 6. By law, state lawmakers cannot raise taxes in regular session every other year, so the special session will focus on raising revenues to close the budget gap.

Both State Rep. Malinda White, D-Bogalusa, and State Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, have vowed to restore funding to the hospital during that special session.

“My priorities in the special session are to fill the gap and to make sure we keep our health and education funded,” White said.

Besides the hospitals, Senate lawmakers also cut deeper into TOPS, the state’s scholarship program.

Mizell said the special session now has special urgency, given the potential cuts to hospitals and TOPS.

“It’s just going to make the special session much more focused to get this taken care of right off the bat,” Mizell said. “I don’t want this to be the last day of the special session. I want this to be done right away.”

Mizell said she’ll be looking to close some tax loopholes in order to raise money to fully fund the hospital. She added that she does not want to raise taxes on workers.

“I’d like to think we can bring this money about by not taxing the working people of Louisiana any more than we already have,” she said.

In particular, Mizell said she supports cutting some tax breaks for the film industry.

“You can’t justify giving money to film tax credits and other special interests when all these families are worried about TOPS and paying their taxes,” she said.

White did not say exactly how she would like to close the $600-million shortfall, because she didn’t have the details of some proposed bills.

In addition to closing the $600-million shortfall, lawmakers will also be repealing a series of accidental taxes.

Earlier this year, in the special session prior to the regular session, lawmakers accidentally implemented over a dozen taxes on purchases like items sold at garage sales, supplies bought by volunteer firefighters, Girl Scout cookies and donations to food banks. A complete list can be found on the governor’s website, and he is asking lawmakers to repeal all the mistaken taxes.