Louisiana’s legislators took modest steps to address the state’s structural deficit this session, but missed several opportunities to fix the bigger problems—the widespread poverty, poor health access and low education attainment that keeps too many hard-working Louisianans from reaching their full potential.
The Louisiana Budget Project’s review of the 2015 legislative session, “Modest Progress, Missed Opportunities,” looks at the highlights and lowlights of the two-month session, and explains how the $1.6 billion budget shortfall was solved.
For the first time since Louisiana’s budget shortfalls emerged in 2009, the Legislature took a balanced approach that included new revenues along with prudent cuts and other savings. A series of revenue measures generated around $741 million that will be used to keep critical state services from being cut. That’s a welcome change from years of a cuts-only approach that led to the deepest higher education cuts in the nation.
“It took years for Louisiana policymakers to dig themselves into such a deep budget hole, so it was unrealistic to expect it to get fixed in a single session,” said LBP Director Jan Moller. “But the 2015 session was a step in the right direction, as our elected officials realized that new revenues have to be part of the mix if we want to avoid deep cuts that hurt our most vulnerable citizens.”
Unfortunately, many of the revenue solutions are only temporary in nature, which means many of the issues that generated heated debate this session will soon be revisited. In one of the biggest missteps of the session, legislators botched reform of the expensive movie subsidy program by passing a proposal that will save money in the short term, but is likely to draw lawsuits and create big financial liabilities for the state in the future.
But while legislators made a modest down payment on long-term reform, they also missed opportunities to improve life for low-income children and families today. For the third year in a row, they denied health coverage to 300,000 uninsured adults, even though most of those adults are working hard every day and federal dollars will cover nearly all of the cost. Legislators also killed a bill to strengthen Louisiana’s Earned Income Tax Credit, currently the smallest in the country.
For more information about the session, click here to read the full report.