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The “pretend” budget marches on

Posted on May 16, 2018

The Louisiana Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve a 2018-19 budget blueprint that would eliminate state funding for food stamps, meat inspections and a host of other programs while also decimating local district attorneys and forcing the release of thousands of state inmates serving time in parish jails. But lawmakers passed the bill with the full knowledge that this version – like previous versions – won’t find its way into law, as the Legislature will meet next week for a special session to raise the additional revenue needed to balance the books. Elizabeth Crisp of The Advocate has more:

(Senate Finance Committee Chairman Erik) LaFleur said it was important to the Senate to identify life-or-death programs as “priorities” that must be funded, while demonstrating what it would mean to other state services if revenue isn’t raised. The Senate has separately adopted two resolutions outlining the areas they view as priorities heading into a special session, including extending a portion of a one-cent sales tax that will roll off the books on July 1, charging sales taxes on items that would otherwise be exempt (a process commonly referred to in the State Capitol as “cleaning pennies”) and reviewing which tax credits are less lucrative to the state.

Columnist Tim Morris is not impressed by either side in the budget debate, and writes on Nola.com/The Times-Picayune that it’s time for a more honest discussion of revenues and state spending.

The budgets produced by the Republican-controlled House and Senate so far either cut health care spending into the bone — including Medicaid for those nursing home residents — or preserve it by reducing most other state agencies by about 25 percent. Lawmakers who believe that either of those budget approaches is the right thing to do should absolutely resist any attempts to raise taxes and take ownership of what the budget cuts produce in the real world.

 

Big hopes for the special session
Gov. John Bel Edwards hit the road Tuesday in his efforts to convince policymakers – and the public – to raise enough revenue to avoid the deep cuts called for by the latest version of the budget. Speaking to health care industry and business leaders in Central Louisiana, the governor expressed optimism that the final version of the budget will not included devastating cuts to critical health care priorities.  Jeff Matthews, reporter for The Town Talk, attended the events:

“When you look at the 13 parishes in Central Louisiana, people heavily depend on those clinics,” Edwards said. “It’s critical we get this done, and we should be able to do it. It shouldn’t be that difficult. I’m optimistic we’re going to get it done, but I’m not naive. There are some legislators who don’t want to do anything to address the cliff.”  The “fiscal cliff” refers to the $1.4 billion in temporary taxes and other revenue-raising measures that expire in June. When they do, the state must make up nearly $650 million through increased revenue or spending cuts to balance the budget. Without new revenue, the brunt of the cuts would likely fall on things such as education, health care or the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) scholarship program.

 

The state versus big pharma
Louisiana Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee filed suit against opioid manufacturers in September, alleging that the drug companies helped fuel the state’s opioid epidemic by engaging in fraudulent marketing about the risks and benefits of prescription opioids. Louisiana was among the first states to file suit, and on Tuesday six more states decided to take the pharmaceutical manufacturers to court. Purdue Pharma, the creator of OxyContin, now faces suits by Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Texas and Tennessee. The lawsuits allege that the manufacturers knew their products weren’t safe but marketed them as safe and effective anyway. German Lopez at Vox.com explains:

Opioid makers’ claims that their drugs are an effective treatment for chronic pain are similarly faulty. There’s simply no good scientific evidence that opioid painkillers can effectively treat long-term chronic pain as patients grow tolerant of opioids’ effects — but there’s plenty of evidence that prolonged use can result in very bad complications, including a higher risk of addiction, overdose, and death. In short, the risks outweigh the benefits for most chronic pain patients. Yet opioid makers were highly influential in perpetuating the claim that their drugs can treat chronic pain.

 

Minimum wage and the restaurant industry
One of the biggest political roadblocks to raising the minimum wage in Louisiana and elsewhere is the powerful restaurant industry. Their lobbyists routinely help block efforts to raise the paychecks of workers who often toil for $2.13 per hour, plus tips. But even the industry’s own poll finds that raising the minimum wage remains wildly popular with the general public. Lisa Graves and Zaid Jilani with The Intercept report:

Conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz’s firm LuntzGlobal on behalf of the other NRA — the National Restaurant Association — the poll found that 71 percent of people surveyed support raising the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour. … The leaked poll also sheds new light on arguments the NRA has made through its local proxies in its campaigns against raising the minimum wage. One of the arguments routinely made by industry representatives is that raising the minimum wage will raise the costs for customers.  But, the NRA’s own poll shows that, by an overwhelming majority, customers are willing to pay more to support a “fair wage.” In the words of LuntzGlobal: “They want the INCREASE in spite of the costs.”

 

Number of the Day:
110 – Number of opioid prescriptions written for every 100 Louisiana residents. Since Medicaid expansion, the total number of pills prescribed decreased by more than 10 million doses, a three percent reduction. (Source: Louisiana Department of Health)

 

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