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The Daily Dime: November 2012

The Louisiana Budget Project’s “The Daily Dime” is a morning overview of news regarding state budget issues affecting low and moderate income families, written by policy analyst David Gray. To receive it directly in your inbox email davidgray@lano.org.

Friday, November 30, 2012
The Times Picayune editorial board took another shot at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to accept Medicaid expansion in Louisiana, saying the governor is out of excuses for refusing the expansion given the expansion’s lower-than-projected costs.

LSU’s proposed top-down reorganization will likely be completed in 18 months, according to interim system president William Jenkins. The reorganization involves consolidating campuses and naming a chief executive officer at the top in a position of oversight.

Louisiana residents may need a passport to fly domestically due to a federal law passed in 2005. The Real ID Act calls for the inclusion of 39 security features on all state-issued identification cards, but state lawmakers prohibited the Office of Motor Vehicles from meeting the federal law’s requirements.

Louisiana residents can participate in early voting for the December 8 runoff elections now until Saturday at the Registrar of Voters office in each parish and at designated locations in certain parishes from 8:30am to 6:00pm. Voters can use this online tool to receive more information about the races and propositions on their ballots.

The Daily Dime will be in an abbreviated format from Nov. 26 through Nov. 30 as the Louisiana Budget Project’s staff travels to Washington DC for an annual conference with other budget projects across the nation.

70 – The percent of Louisiana’s public high schools that showed double-digit growth in their school performance scores this year. (Source: The Advocate)

 

Thursday, November 29, 2012
A median-income Louisiana family of four earning $68,900 annually could see income taxes rise by $2,200 if all the Bush-era tax cuts are eliminated, according to the President’s Council of Economic Advisors. The report also noted that Louisiana consumers facing the tax increase would reduce their purchases by $2.8 billion in 2013.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration was expecting to generate $35 million from the sale of the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital in New Orleans – money that has already been plugged in to the current-year budget. But new appraisal numbers show the property is worth, at most, $20.9 million, creating yet another gap that policymakers must deal with by June 30.

LSU is using a private foundation, operating in secret, to identify a new private operator to take over the state hospitals in Shreveport, Monroe and Pineville. Several legislators and civic leaders believe the process should be open to the public since LSU is a public institution. LSU officials, on the other hand, say the process would take too long if not performed in secrecy.

A ruling in the trial against Louisiana’s school vouchers is expected this week. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers filed the lawsuit against Gov. Jindal’s administration because they believe last year’s education overhaul was unconstitutional. Many expect the issue to be appealed following this week’s ruling.

Louisiana residents can participate in early voting for the December 8 runoff elections now until Saturday at the Registrar of Voters office in each parish and at designated locations in certain parishes from 8:30am to 6:00pm. Voters can use this online tool to receive more information about the races and propositions on their ballots.

The Daily Dime will be in an abbreviated format from Nov. 26 through Nov. 30 as the Louisiana Budget Project’s staff travels to Washington DC for an annual conference with other budget projects across the nation.

17.5 – The percent of Louisiana’s residents that is uninsured (Source: US Census Bureau)

 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
More than 3,700 Louisiana families’ federal housing assistance will be at risk if Congress passes major legislation to reduce federal budget deficits that does not include substantial new revenues. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, this scenario would almost certainly require deep cuts to housing and community development programs that serve low-income communities.

Tomorrow is the deadline to apply for federal assistance as a result of Hurricane Isaac. FEMA has approved 32,163 people for housing assistance and 21,632 for other help in Louisiana to date, with some of those people getting help in both categories.

As a joint lawsuit against the state over the constitutionality of Louisiana’s recent education overhaul begins today in Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial Court District, Louisiana Federation of Teacher’s president Steve Monaghan told nola.com that he is “fully aware that the administration is very, very likely to appeal and to appeal to the Supreme Court.”

LSU’s chief financial officer, Eric Monday, is leaving Baton Rouge for a new job at the University of Kentucky as its executive vice president for finance and administration. While at LSU, Monday was responsible for overseeing the university’s annual budget of more than $800 million. Monday’s departure highlights the exodus of LSU officials that are leaving Louisiana’s flagship universities for other appointments.

Louisiana residents can participate in early voting for the December 8 runoff elections now until Saturday at the Registrar of Voters office in each parish and at designated locations in certain parishes from 8:30am to 6:00pm. Voters can use this online tool to receive more information about the races and propositions on their ballots.

The Daily Dime will be in an abbreviated format from Nov. 26 through Nov. 30 as the Louisiana Budget Project’s staff travels to Washington DC for an annual conference with other budget projects across the nation.

117,500,000 - The amount of money received by Louisiana residents for individual assistance from FEMA in connection with Isaac (Source: The Advocate)

 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012
A new report released by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured shows it would cost Louisiana about $1 billion between 2013 and 2022 to expand the Medicaid program to cover the working poor. That’s roughly one-third the amount that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration has estimated. The report found that the number of uninsured in Louisiana would drop by more than 60 percent if the state were to take advantage of the opportunity to grow its Medicaid program.

A federal judge has halted the implementation of Louisiana’s school voucher program and new teacher evaluation in Tangipahoa Parish, ruling that the new state laws conflicts with a decades-old desegregation case. Although the state can continue to implement the laws in other jurisdictions, the ruling in Tangipahoa may affect several other parishes that are also under federal desegregation orders.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers will attempt to repeal Gov. Bobby Jindal’s public school overhaul during the next legislative session, president Steve Monaghan said. The group will also target a new law that makes it harder for public school teachers to earn and retain tenure.

Meanwhile, a new study shows Louisiana has the country’s fifth-lowest high school graduation rate.

The average price of flood insurance rose in southeast Louisiana over the last year, according to City Business.

Louisiana residents can participate in early voting for the December 8 runoff elections now until Saturday at the Registrar of Voters office in each parish and at designated locations in certain parishes from 8:30am to 6:00pm. Voters can use this online tool to get more information about the races and propositions on their ballots.

The Daily Dime will be in an abbreviated format from Nov. 26 through Nov. 30 as the Louisiana Budget Project’s staff travels to Washington DC for an annual conference with other budget projects across the nation.

2.5 - The percentage increase of Louisiana’s medical costs if all states accepted the federal Medicaid expansion, compared to if all states rejected expansion (Source: Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, Table 14)

 

Monday, November 26, 2012
A judge will rule on the legality of the state’s voucher program and other education changes on Nov. 28. Two statewide teacher unions and dozens of local school boards say the state cannot use the public school funding formula to pay to pay private schools. The matter is expected to be repealed after the Nov. 28 decision is announced.

Louisiana has no easy cuts left to bridge the projected $963 million shortfall, according to AP writer Melinda Deslatte. While this year’s shortfall is less than previous years, streamlining departments and using one time funds to fill gaps will not be enough to close the hole. Gov. Jindal must unveil his proposal for balancing next year’s budget to lawmakers by Feb. 22.

Warren Buffet, the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, believes Congress should enact a minimum tax on high-income earners. In his New York Times op-ed, Buffet suggests a minimum tax of 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million, and 35 percent on amounts above $10 million. He also believes Pres. Obama should eliminate Bush tax cuts for those making above $500,000 per year.

Early voting for the December 8 runoff elections began Saturday and ends Dec. 1. Early voting occurs at the Registrar of Voters office in each parish and at designated locations in certain parishes from 8:30am to 6:00pm, except Sunday. Voters can use this online tool to receive more information about the races and propositions on their ballots.

The Daily Dime will be in an abbreviated format from Nov. 26 through Nov. 30 as the Louisiana Budget Project’s staff travels to Washington DC for an annual conference with other budget projects across the nation.

70 – The percent of Louisiana’s public high schools that showed double-digit growth in their school performance scores this year. (Source: The Advocate)

 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Nineteen members of the House are asking Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to weigh in on the constitutionality of the state budget. The “fiscal hawks,” a group of conservative lawmakers, are questioning the extensive use of “one-time” money in the budget, and whether the $26 billion spending plan is actually balanced as required by the constitution. A copy of the letter  can be found on nola.com.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne is tired of the state raiding his tourism budget to market special events like the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans. Dardenne told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that the state should have a $5 million to $10 million special revolving fund for such major events. Around $23 million generated through sales taxes did not go to tourism marketing and promotion efforts because of special event earmarks.

Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan says Louisiana teachers are under attack due to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education overhaul.His comments come a year following the passage of several bills backed by Jindal but opposed by teacher unions.

Please remember to vote in state runoff elections on December 8.

This will be the last Daily Dime until Nov. 26 as the Louisiana Budget Project takes a break for Thanksgiving.

28 – The percent of the population 25 years and over who have at least some college experience but still earned an income below the poverty level within the last year (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009-2011 American Community Survey)

 

Monday, November 19, 2012
Louisiana faces a $963 million budget shortfall in the 2013-14 fiscal year, which means another round of government cost-cutting is likely in the months ahead. Administration officials blamed the shortfall on Medicaid cuts ordered by Congress and the loss of one-time dollars that are propping up this year’s state budget.

A new private agency will run behavioral health and developmental disabilities services in five southwest Louisiana parishes. The Imperial Calcasieu Human Service Authority will take control over 100 state employees and $13 million in state funds in July 2013, and it will operate services in Allen, Cameron, Calcasieu, Beauregard, and Jefferson Davis parishes.

Public school teachers are bracing for a new annual evaluation and ranking system designed to test their effectiveness in the classroom. Half of the evaluation is based on student test scores, and half on classroom observations. Although some view the new system as a modernizing the teaching profession, others regard it as another assault on Louisiana’s educators.

The Associated Press’ Melinda Deslatte wonders whether Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ham-fisted treatment of conservative legislators who disagree with him will have repercussions down the road as he tries to push his agenda.

Rep. Clif Richardson, R-Central, will resign from the Louisiana Legislature in January. Richardson says he is resigning due to treatment for blood cancer, which makes him very sick and weak. The election for Richardson’s vacant seat will be on March 2.

Please remember to vote in state runoff elections on December 8.

0 - The change in average household income between late 1990s and mid-2000s for Louisiana’s poorest fifth of households (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

 

Friday, November 16, 2012
The LSU Board of Supervisors will vote a second time on whether to consolidate the offices of LSU System president and chancellor of LSU’s flagship campus. The decision comes after an attorney general’s opinion that an earlier vote on the matter was not properly advertised.

Legislators want to know if the downsizing of the state public hospital system will spawn a doctor shortage, as medical students and residents go elsewhere in search of training. Meanwhile, former LSU health-care administrator Dr. Roxane Townsend is decamping for the University of Arkansas, where she will be vice chancellor of clinical affairs.

The Nola.com editorial board, normally supportive of the governor, is urging Jindal to cover as many as 400,000 uninsured Louisianans by expanding Medicaid, which he has thus far refused. “With every decision Gov. Jindal makes, the message becomes clearer to hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents who are uninsured: The state has no interest in helping you,” the board wrote in an editorial on its website.

BP entered a plea agreement with the US Justice Department, agreeing to pay $4 billion in criminal penalties and plead guilty to 12 felony counts and two misdemeanors for its negligence and role in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill in 2010. One of the felonies is for obstruction of Congress, and the other eleven are for the men killed during the explosion. The Justice Department is also charging three high-ranking BP employees with crimes in the case.

About 1,450 Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines Parish provisional ballot voters did not have an opportunity to weigh in on the Crescent City Connection bridge toll extension, in which the decision to extend tolls for another 20 years won by only 16 votes. The exclusion is the result of a 2003 state law that allows provisional ballots in federal races but excludes them from state and local elections.

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley asked the state Ethics Board to waive $1,000 fines against two teachers who led a failed recall campaign against himself and the governor.

Pressure from sheriffs and other law enforcement officials prompted the Louisiana Public Service Commission to deadlock in a 2-2 vote on whether to lower the cost of phone calls between inmates and their families, with one abstention. While the commission’s staff recommended reduced the rates by 25 percent and eliminating some fees, sheriffs and Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said the fees charged to inmates’ families are an important part of their budget.

Please remember to vote in state runoff elections on December 8.

826,000 – The average monthly number of Louisiana residents participating in the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2010 (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

 

Thursday, November 15, 2012
The income gap between Louisiana’s richest households and its poorest is sixth worst in the nation, and inequality has grown faster in Louisiana than in most other states since the late 1990s, according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The average income of the top 20 percent of households was nearly 9 times greater than the lowest 20 percent in the late 2000s. Between the late 1990s and the mid 2000s, the incomes of Louisiana’s richest households grew by 17 percent while those of the poorest fifth stagnated and those of middle-income earners grew by less than 8 percent. Media coverage of the report is here, here and here, among other places.

Gov. Bobby Jindal reaffirmed that Louisiana will not establish its own health-insurance exchange as part of the new federal health-care reform law. That means the federal government will begin the work of setting up the regulated marketplace where people can shop for private coverage starting next October. States had until Friday to notify the federal government of their intentions.

There is still no word from the governor on whether he plans to follow through on his promise to reject the expansion of Medicaid, which could provide coverage to as many as 400,000 low-income Louisianans.

The recent boom in shale gas production has lowered natural gas prices nationwide and is helping the US stay on track towards becoming the world’s largest gas producer. That’s good for several Louisiana parishes, which, in the words of Ascension Parish’s Economic Development Corp. president, are “swimming in natural gas.”

The U.S. Census Bureau released a new report showing federal benefits such as food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit and unemployment insurance successfully kept millions of Americans out of poverty in 2011.

BP has agreed to pay fines totaling $4.5 billion and plead guilty to 14 criminal penalties in connection with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers and spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Nearly $116 million in individual aid for Louisiana homeowners and renters who experienced damage from Hurricane Isaac was approved by FEMA as of Wednesday. Over 80 percent of the money is allocated to help 32,000 people with housing assistance.

Please remember to vote in state runoff elections on December 8.

10  - Louisiana’s national ranking for income disparities between top and middle income earners (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012
More state employees have been laid off in the last four months than in the previous year, according to a new Civil Service report. Nearly 1,000 state workers have lost their jobs since July 1, compared to 967 in the 2011-12 fiscal year, as Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plans to privatize traditional government functions continue to take a toll on state agencies. The latest figures do not include the 1,500 LSU public hospital employees who are expected to lose their jobs as the state slices its health-care safety net for the uninsured.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu continues to indicate that she’ll seek re-election in 2014, as her chief of staff told CNN that Louisiana’s three-term Democratic senator can win the race because of her focus on issues such as education, increased flood protection and holding BP accountable for the 2010 oil spill.

The number of Louisiana public school teachers is projected to decline during the current academic year, and then slowly rise as more students enroll in public schools over the next five years. A report by the Educating Estimating Conference found that most teachers who have left the profession in recent years did so because of retirement (25 percent) or layoffs (18 percent).

Two teachers who started recall efforts against Gov. Bobby Jindal and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley may face fines for failure to file campaign finance reports on time. Angie Bonvillian and Brenda Romero are each subject to $1,000 fines for filing reports 56 days late. The reports show the Jindal recall effort spent $525 and the Kleckley effort spent $1,600, while the Republican Party spent over $100,000 fighting the efforts.

The March of Dimes gave Louisiana an F rating for too many premature births. The state’s premature birth rate is nearly 16 premature births per 100 pregnancies. The three factors measured on the report card are smoking among women of childbearing age, the number of uninsured women and premature births occurring between 34 and 36 weeks.

Winning by only 16 votes, the highly contentious Crescent City Connection tolls in New Orleans will stay in place. More than 200,000 votes were cast on the issue.

Please remember to vote in state runoff elections on December 8.

3,200 - The number of rank-and-file state employees who have lost their job since Gov. Jindal took office in 2008 (Source: The Advocate)

 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Gov. Bobby Jindal gave his first post-election interview to the Washington-insider digest POLITICO. The governor said Republicans need better messaging if they intend to win future presidential elections, and offered this nugget to those who are eager to glean his intentions on tax reform: “Depending on other reforms that are made, certainly I’d be open to the idea of having more deductions, credits available to low-income [filers].”

Louisiana is the first state to launch an online state tax credit exchange that allows investors to trade transferable and refundable tax credits. Over $1 million in controversial film tax credits exchanged hands in the online system’s first day of operation. Organizers plan to launch the system in Georgia and California later this month.

The Baton Rouge Advocate is not happy that the Jindal administration has budgeted federal disaster-relief dollars to finance pre-kindergarten programs for at-risk 4-year-olds. “The idea of paying for a basic educational need with odd lots of cash isn’t particularly new and predates Jindal in office” the newspaper writes in an editorial. “But since Jindal cut the state’s general fund drastically early in his term through tax cuts and economic development funds, what’s become worse is the odd reaching for cash for what the governor and legislators say is one of their top priorities.”

The Louisiana Public Service Commission will propose a 25 percent decrease in inmate telephone rates and elimination of unauthorized add-on fees at its Nov. 15 meeting. The average rate for collect calls from Louisiana jails is currently 30 cents a minute – nearly 15 times greater than calls originating from outside a jail.

State conservation officials say Texas Brine is legally responsible for the massive sinkhole in Assumption Parish. On Monday, the state ordered the Houston-based company to install a series of safety devices around the sinkhole to monitor natural gas and methane levels.

Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin continues to be investigated for his possible involvement in two bribery cases. Investigators believe Nagin bargained agreements with New Orleans engineering firm Three Fold Consultants and Home Depot for money and clients for his now-defunct granite-countertop company.

Please remember to vote in state runoff elections on December 8.  

$1,549,575 - The amount of federal support for Louisiana’s public elementary and secondary school systems in 2009-10 (Source: US Census Bureau)

 

Monday, November 12, 2012
The state is relying on unspecified “public private partnerships” to fill $136 million of the gap in Louisiana’s Medicaid program, according to newly released documents reviewed by The Advocate. The previous plan had been to fill most of the gap using surplus dollars – an idea that drew strong criticism from legislators.

LSU’s state support is barely enough to cover mandated fixed costs such as employee retirement, health and liability coverage, according to college officials who pleaded with the Legislature for more stable funding after years of deep budget cuts. Officials fear a continued brain drain, as faculty salaries now rank well below the Southern average.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon will reject a proposed $50,000 pay raise for CEO of Citizen’s Property Insurance Corp. The increase would have increased the CEO’s annual pay from $240,000 to $290,000. The board of directors for the state-run property insurer of last resort approved the pay raise on Nov. 8, despite a $56 million budget gap.

Wal-Mart is forcing its employees to pay more for health care plans in 2013. About 1.4 million employees will forego coverage altogether due to rate increases of 8 to 36 percent more in premiums. The corporate retailer currently requires workers to pay deductibles of at least $1,750 before the company covers 80 percent of the cost of care.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration picked a Virginia firm to help the state collect millions of dollars in unpaid debts. While the contract is not finalized, the state is expected to pay at least $200,000 to CGI Technologies and Solutions Inc., which will be charged with collecting nearly $1 billion in unpaid debts.

Leaders from the Department of Transportation and Development expect I-10 widening in Baton Rouge to be completed by the end of the year. The project cost the state $86 million to date and is currently one year behind schedule.

Please remember to vote in state runoff elections on December 8.

67,497- The number of homeless veterans nationwide in 2011. (Source: TheAdvocate)

 

Friday, November 9, 2012
President Obama’s re-election victory means the federal Affordable Care Act will remain the law of the land. And that leaves some key decisions for governors, including whether to move ahead with the Medicaid expansion and whether to implement a state-level insurance exchange.

Louisiana Democratic leaders and advocacy groups (led by LBP) are urging Gov. Bobby Jindal to reconsider his refusal of the Medicaid expansion, which would cover as many as 400,000 Louisiana residents.

Meanwhile, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a new report that looks at the status of state health insurance exchange implementation across the nation. In addition to refusing the Medicaid expansion, Louisiana is among a handful of states that have said it will not establish a state exchange and will instead leave that job to the feds.

As the charity hospital system gets slowly dismantled, LSU hospital executives and state health officials are “meeting behind closed doors to determine which private hospitals get arrangements that would use government funds” to pay for patient care and post-graduate medical training, The Advocate’s Marsha Shuler reports in an illuminating column.

Another top LSU official is leaving for an out-of-state job due to budget cuts directed by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. David Manuel, the LSU-Alexandria Chancellor, said he accepted an opportunity to become chancellor of Drury University in Springfield, MO. When asked for a reason for this departure, Manuel replied, “Our ability to invest in ourselves [at LSU] just seems to continue to be hindered by policy and by actions.”

Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run property insurer of last resort, has a $56 million budget gap after settling claims from Hurricane Isaac and a class action lawsuit from mishandling claims from past storms. The report of Citizens’ shortfall occurs on the same day that its board voted to increase commercial rates by 45 percent and give its CEO a $50,000 pay raise. State Treasurer John Kennedy called the moves “wrong, inexcusable, and unacceptable.”

As the House and Senate budget committees prepare to vote on privatizing a health plan for state employees, House Democratic Caucus chair John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, joined critics of House Speaker Chuck Kleckley who say the hearing violates a House rule requiring 10 days notice. “I can only assume that the speaker is just deciding that he’s going to deliver for the administration at all costs,” Edwards, a likely 2015 candidate for governor, wrote.

State college leaders want the authority to charge higher tuition for popular degrees such as engineering. The college leaders warned legislators that unless tuition increases, public universities would continue to lose specialized faculty and risk losing accreditation due to “financial instability.”

The state Department of Health and Hospitals is negotiating a contract with Meridian Behavioral Health that will privatize the operation of Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville. The hospital became a controversial topic when state officials announced plans to close mental health facility to offset the loss of federal health care money.

 

20 – The record number of U.S. Senate seats that will be held by women. (Source: Nola.com)

 

Thursday, November 8, 2012
Gov. Bobby Jindal said Tuesday’s election results will not change his approach in Louisiana. “Here in Louisiana, we will continue to do what we have always done,” Jindal told the media in a prepared statement.

Among the issues expected to get new life in the coming months is the 2014 expansion of Medicaid, which the Jindal administration has said it will not accept. Pres. Obama’s re-election means the Affordable Care Act will remain the law of the land. As many as 400,000 low-income Louisianans could get health coverage through the expansion, with the federal government picking up the lion’s share of the cost.

Now that the election in the history books, New Orleans City Business says the business community can take the lead in seeking political compromise between the two major parties.

Meanwhile, a small business owner tells The Advocate that letting the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy expire on schedule will not affect that vast majority of small businesses.

A court-appointed oil-spill claims administrator says BP must give 43 Louisiana organizations almost $16 million to promote Gulf Coast tourism and the seafood industry. The funding is part of $44 million settlement between the oil company and over 100 nonprofit organizations and government entities from 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster claims.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols is confident the administration has enough votes to privatize a state health insurance plan, which comes up for review by the House and Senate budget committees tomorrow. The administration says the change will save money by removing duplication, but opponents say the measure will result in lost jobs and increased premiums for state workers.

This is the third time the committee will meet to discuss the plan, but the first for two new committee members after the governor ousted two Republican opponents from the committee.

Louisiana voters approved all but one constitutional amendment in Tuesday’s election, and this summary explains how each amendment affects residents.

1,994,036 – The number of Louisiana voters that participated in the Presidential election (Source: Louisiana Secretary of State)

 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012
There is more controversy over the Jindal administration’s efforts to outsource a state employee health plan. Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, who helped ensure that the matter would receive legislative scrutiny by requesting an attorney general’s opinion, says Friday’s scheduled hearing violates a House rule requiring at least 10 days’ notice before a committee can meet.

Louisiana residents can visit the Secretary of State’s website to view the unofficial results for every election in the state. Over 70 percent of registered voters participated.

The Times-Picayune’s James Varney says President Obama’s re-election victory means it’s time for Republicans to end their iron-clad resistance to tax increases.

But more tax cuts could be on the way in Louisiana, where voters narrowly approved Amendment 8 to the state’s constitution, allowing property tax breaks for non-manufacturing businesses if local governments approve.

A coalition of clergy and prisoner support groups want the state to lower the cost of telephone calls between prisoners and their families. The Louisiana Interchurch Conference Committee on Criminal Justice says high administrative fees drive up the costs of these calls. Currently, the average cost for all calls originating from jail is 30 cents a minute, compared with two cents outside the prison.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities updated its “Top Ten Facts about Social Security,” first published in August to mark the programs 77th birthday

8 – The vote gap between extending the Crescent City Connection tolls, which won, and letting the tolls expire. (Source: WWLTV)


Tuesday, November 6, 2012
The claim by LSU officials that deep cuts to the state hospital system will improve medical education “is just not evidence-based,” a University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine physician writes in a blistering letter to The Baton Rouge Advocate. “The governor’s refusal of expanded Medicaid coverage and the current haphazard implementation of this wrong decision will result in the premature death of Louisiana residents and the potential irreparable harm to the state’s medical education system,” Dr. Jay Kolls wrote.

Meanwhile, voters across the country will have a major voice in whether the landmark 2010 health-reform law remains on the books.

The Legislature’s insistence on letting the governor pick and choose which capital projects get funded in the state construction budget meant dozens of proposed outlays in Baton Rouge and New Orleans got chopped, including $75,000 for a civil rights museum in New Orleans and $365,000 for water system improvements in Zachary.

Secretary of State Tom Schedler is expecting long lines at the polls today. While the neck-and-neck presidential race is the headliner, it’s a crowded ballot this year that includes nine constitutional amendments, races for Congress, judicial contest and local referendums.

The Associated Press published this timeline to help you know when polls close across the country and when you can expect to receive election results.

The House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committee will meet on Friday to vote on the privatization of state health plans. This is the third time the joint committee is scheduled to meet. Gov. Bobby Jindal delayed the first meeting and Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols pulled the item from the second meeting because they didn’t have enough votes to support their privatization plan.

The latest meeting comes a week after two Republicans who opposed the plan were booted from the committee.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a report yesterday that a new wellhead is releasing unknown chemicals in the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA does not know the type of chemical being released, when the leak began or the rate of discharge. The release’s location is northwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Use this widget from the Secretary of State’s Office to plug in your address and receive an individualized ballot that can be printed out. Also, you can click here to find your voting location and click here to learn more about proposed constitutional amendments.

70 – The percentage of voters expected to vote in today’s election (Source: WVUE New Orleans)

 

Monday, November 5, 2012
Former LSU health-care chief Dr. Fred Cerise said the deep cuts to Louisiana’s state hospitals could have been avoided had the Jindal administration been willing to use one-time money to keep the facilities afloat until the 2014 Medicaid expansion takes effect. Cerise, who was pushed out in August, told The Advocate that going through with the Medicaid expansion, which Jindal has rejected, would not only provide more Louisiana residents with health access, but also lower the state’s overall health-care spending.

The Times-Picayune takes a detailed look at how the Medicaid expansion could affect the network of outpatient clinics that have sprung up in Orleans Parish in recent years.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has come out against Amendment 2, arguing that the gun-rights measure will jeopardize public safety.

It was perhaps inevitable that the federal response to Superstorm Sandy would draw comparisons to Hurricane Katrina. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman says President Obama deserves the widespread praise he’s received in the storm’s aftermath. Meanwhile, the Huffington Post breaks down the numbers in a helpful infographic.

Speaking out against the Jindal administration appears to have cost two GOP lawmakers their coveted seats on the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Cameron Henry of Metarie and Joe Harrison of Napoleonville were booted from the panel Friday, a day after they joined other committee members in opposing the governor’s plan to privatize a state employee health plan.

The AP’s Melinda Deslatte notes that the Legislature has never been known for its independence.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says health-care inflation, combined with the economic downturn, are the main reasons why spending for social safety-net programs has been rising.

Click here to find your voting location and click here to learn more about proposed constitutional amendments.

$478 – The 2011 average annual weekly wage of a retail job in Louisiana (Source: Louisiana Workforce Commission)

 

Friday, November 2, 2012
The U.S. economy added 171,000 jobs in October in a stronger performance than most analysts were expecting. The economy has now created an average of 173,000 jobs a month since July, up from 67,000 a month from April through June. But the unemployment rate rose slightly from 7.8 percent to 7.9 percent, which economists attribute to more people entering the labor force looking for work.

A vote on whether to outsource a state employee health plan was delayed Thursday when Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols abruptly pulled the measure right before it was set to be voted down by a House committee.

BP officials believe their $7.8 billion class-action settlement will not be halted by the 2,861 potential plaintiffs who asked to opt out of the agreement. Nearly half of the $397 million in settlements already offered by BP are slated for Louisiana residents. If one-third of the total settlement claimants are Louisiana residents, the final settlement can direct $2.6 billion into the state.

A vacant lot next to the state Capitol isn’t worth the $5 million that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration hoped it would fetch in a sale, according to a new appraisal. The lot–which once housed the cottage of Huey Long’s assassin, Dr. Carl Weiss, and later the state Insurance Department–is only worth about $2 million, The Advocate reports. The administration was hoping to use sale proceeds to pay for some state operating expenses, but that plan might now have to be scuttled.

A University of Texas administrator is the lone finalist to succeed Randy Moffett as president of the University of Louisiana system. Sandra Woodley is currently vice chancellor of strategic initiatives at the University of Texas system.

Mitt Romney may be virtually guaranteed to win Louisiana’s eight Electoral College votes in Tuesday’s election. But students from  across the state elected President Obama in a mock election on Thursday. The event, which is sponsored by Secretary of State Tom Schedler and Cox Communications, invited 88,600 K-12 students from 280 public, private and home schools to vote.

Click here to find your voting location  on Nov. 6, and click here to learn more about proposed constitutional amendments.

7 – Louisiana’s ranking for overall business climate (Source: Site Selection Magazine)

 

Thursday, November 1, 2012
A new report by the Louisiana Budget Project makes the case for doubling the value of Louisiana’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Expanding the credit will help lift more families out of poverty and would be especially beneficial for children, as studies have shown that higher family incomes lead to stronger school performance and improved lifetime earnings.

A week after voting to consolidate the positions of LSU System president and the chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus into one job, the LSU Board of Supervisors is planning another vote Friday to reorganize the LSU System under the flagship campus in Baton Rouge. The new system would have 14 vice presidents to manage university operations and five executive vice presidents to run the main campus and academic matters.

Low-income working families have a huge stake in the outcome of year-end federal negotiations over extending some of the tax-cut provisions in the 2009 stimulus law.

The C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy officially closed its doors this week, displacing nearly 900 inmates and 269 employees.

A joint House and Senate committee will meet today to discuss privatizing state employee health benefits. Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols penned an op-ed saying privatization will save the state $20 million per year. But a 2011 report from the Legislative Auditor’s Office raises several concerns, including the potential for higher premiums, less administrative control over costs and benefits and the loss of state jobs in the Office of Group Benefits.

Assumption Parish and Texas Brine Co. officials disagree over the amount of land a 5.5-acre sinkhole swallowed on Tuesday. Parish officials say the sinkhole grew by 30,000 square feet, while company officials estimate the growth at only 750 square feet. More than 150 homes in the area are evacuated, and recovery efforts thus far cost the state $2.2 million.

Please remember to vote on November 6. Click here to locate your voting location, and click here to learn more about proposed constitutional amendments.

30 - The percent of Louisiana households receive the state EITC. (Source: LBP)

 

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October 2012
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