Friday, Jan. 10, 2014

Friday, Jan. 10, 2014

Office of Motor Vehicles: Doing Less, Waiting More; State fiscal office: only $90 million of amnesty funds remain unspent; US economy adds 74,000 jobs; unemployment rate drops to 6.7 percent; Test security lapses increase in Louisiana; and Friday Fun: Audubon Aquarium penguin paints for the Saints. $90 million – The amount of tax amnesty dollars that remain unspent. (Source: Legislative Fiscal Office)

Office of Motor Vehicles: Doing Less, Waiting More
The above-the-fold headline in today’s Baton Rouge Advocate is not the kind of thing you want to see if you’re Gov. Bobby Jindal and you’re two weeks away from presenting your budget recommendations to the Legislature. After years of being told by administration officials that state government is doing “more with less” in the face of major budget cuts, it turns out that taxpayers were actually buying something for the dollars they sent to Baton Rouge – such as the ability to get a drivers’ license renewed without a two-hour wait. But as the the Legislative Fiscal Office makes clear in a new report, wait times at OMV offices have multiplied in recent years as staffing levels have shrunk. State officials said they hope to mitigate the long wait times by experimenting with self-service kiosks and a pilot program that pays outside contractors to handle driver’s license renewals.

State fiscal office: only $90 million of amnesty funds remain unspent
While Louisiana’s tax amnesty program collected $433 million in past-due taxes, a report from the Legislative Fiscal Office says only $90 million of that remains unspent. That’s what’s left after deducting tax credits submitted as payments, the $200 million already allocated for Medicaid costs and the overhead expense of operating the program. The report found that the vast majority of money collected  — 71 percent — came from only 27 taxpayers (0.033 percent of participants). Businesses accounted for most (90 percent) of the collections despite being a minority of participants (29 percent). Households made up a majority of participants but accounted for just 10 percent of the proceeds.

Board of Regents defends tuition proposal
Three times in recent years the Legislature has created blue-ribbon panels to look at the way Louisiana finances higher education. And all three times the panels have come back with the same recommendations: Get rid of the Legislature’s control of college tuition and give that authority to the university governing boards; restrain the growth of TOPS and pour more dollars into need-based scholarships such as GoGrants. Unfortunately, it’s not a message the Legislature wants to hear — even in a state that led the country last year in slashing support for higher education. Koran Addo of the Advocate has the latest back-and-forth, which came up Thursday as the Regents were discussing the latest round of recommendations.

US economy adds 74,000 jobs; unemployment rate drops to 6.7 percent
The nation’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent in December and the economy added 74,000 jobs — far fewer than economists were expecting — according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for blacks remains twice as high as the rate for whites (11.9 percent versus 5.9 percent) and those jobless for 27 weeks or more accounted for more than one-third (37.7 percent) of the unemployed. Most of the jobs added in December were in low-paying sectors like retail trade (+55,000) and wholesale trade (+15,000). Sectors with the largest declines include information (-12,000) and construction (-16,000). The average workweek for Americans fell to 34.4 hours in December, while average hourly earnings increased to $24.17. Over the year, average hourly earnings increased by 42 cents.

Test security lapses increase in Louisiana
As state education officials begin an investigation into the East Baton Rouge Parish school system amid allegations of cheating, new figures released by the state Department of Education show the number of tests statewide thrown out for violations or possible cheating increased to 711 in 2013 from 519 in 2012. The violations include too many erasures (which could be a sign of teachers changing students’ answers), plagiarism and administrative errors. As reports, [Test scores] make up the lion’s share of the performance scores that determine whether charter schools stay open and, since 2003, whether conventional schools may be taken over by the state. Half of teachers’ evaluations have been based on student test scores, though that requirement has been lifted for two years while students adjusts [sic] to new curricula. Analysts say the weight of these exams gives not just students but faculty and administrators, too, a motivation to cheat — in Louisiana and elsewhere.

Friday Fun: Audubon Aquarium penguin paints for the Saints
New Orleans Saints players gearing up for their Saturday showdown with the Seattle Seahawks  may draw some inspiration from Kohl, an Audubon Aquarium of the Americans penguin who doubles as an artist. Aquarium workers released this video of Kohl putting his stamp on Saints post-season hopes. Top dat Seattle!

$90 million – The amount of tax amnesty dollars that remain unspent. (Source: Legislative Fiscal Office)