Monday, Feb. 17, 2014

Monday, Feb. 17, 2014

Gov. Bobby Jindal sides with casino mogul in internet gambling jihad; Improved Pre-K standards faces funding threat; Louisiana’s nursing home trust fund could be empty by 2016; State support for higher education at a “standstill level”; and Lawmakers will debate bills aimed at curbing levee board’s lawsuit. 30 percent — The average price of childcare in Louisiana as a percent of the average single mother’s budget (Source: Child Care Aware)

Gov. Bobby Jindal sides with casino mogul in internet gambling jihad
Louisiana’s governor hasn’t had much to say about gambling since taking office six years ago. But that changed on Friday, when Jindal made a rare plea for bipartisanship and announced his opposition to internet gambling. “I promised when I ran for Governor that I would not expand gambling in Louisiana,” Jindal wrote in the Baton Rouge Business Report. “I believe that putting a casino in the pocket of practically every American will exploit society’s most vulnerable, threatening to saddle the poor and disadvantaged with spiraling debt. It is a bad idea at a bad time, and putting a stop to it should be supported by both Republicans and Democrats.”

Clearly it’s just coincidence that Jindal’s sudden interest in the subject came on the same week that America’s top GOP campaign donor – Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson – launched a full-scale attack on internet gambling as part of an ongoing feud with other gambling companies. Adelson’s chief concern, it appears, is not that people will gamble online but that tech companies like Google and Facebook will figure out how to dominate the market. As Jon Ralston reported in Politico last week: “And now Adelson is striking back, launching a full-scale fusillade at the group, including a Wednesday-morning conference call morning with the media and a list of 39 organizations backing the effort, including, ironically, members of the religious right who hate all forms of gambling.”

Of course, if Louisiana’s governor is truly concerned about companies that “exploit society’s most vulnerable,” and “saddle the poor and disadvantaged with spiraling debt,” there is an easy step he could take: Rein in Louisiana’s predatory loan industry by supporting efforts to cap interest rates at 36 percent.

Improved Pre-K standards faces funding threat
High-quality early childhood education increases the likelihood that a child will graduate from college and get a good paying job, and lowers a child’s odds of failing school or committing a crime. But high-quality early childhood education is also expensive. In fact, the average price of childcare in Louisiana is nearly equivalent to the average state college tuition and consumes nearly 30 percent of a single mother’s income. And now some early-childhood advocates say the lack of funding for a new lawknown as Act 3— may actually hinder the chances of at-risk children in Louisiana getting a high-quality education. Funding for childcare subsidies has been cut by 58 percent since 2009, and 150,000 at-risk children in Louisiana have no publicly financed education available to them.

Louisiana’s nursing home trust fund could be empty by 2016
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed state budget could completely drain a state fund designed to pay for elderly care, reports. Lawmakers originally established the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly with the expectation that interest and investment returns would be used to subsidize nursing homes and home-care programs for decades to come. But the state’s chronic budget shortfalls – and the governor’s refusal to raise new revenues – have prompted elected officials to repeatedly tap the fund’s principal, in effect using a state savings account to pay for ongoing expenses in the nursing home program. But don’t expect the powerful nursing home industry to feel a pinch when the fund runs dry. A constitutional amendment on the November ballot would protect nursing home rates from getting cut, meaning legislators will have to look to other parts of the state budget to make up the shortfall. 

State support for higher education at a “standstill level”
Contrary to the belief that pubic colleges will receive an extra $142 million next year, proposed funding for Louisiana’s public higher education systems is at a standstill level. According to a new report by the Legislative Fiscal Office, Gov. Jindal’s new $40 million Workforce and Innovation Fund and $2 million for STEM research at Southern University and Grambling State University are offset by a reduction in state general fund support for higher education by $47.5 million. And as LBP explained in a blog post earlier this month, $88 million of the “extra $142 million” is not really state spending at all; it’s money colleges expect to get by raising tuition. In other words, state support for higher education is remaining essentially flat while the increased costs are mostly being borne by students and parents.

Lawmakers will debate bills aimed at curbing levee board’s lawsuit
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East made national headlines several months ago after filing historic legislation against 97 oil and gas companies for wetland damages. According to the lawsuit, permits authorizing the canals required oil, gas and pipeline companies to repair wetlands. The companies failed to honor these portions of the permits, which allowed corrosive saltwater to intrude into the marshes — killing vegetation that serves as a habitat to animals and as a buffer to hurricane storm surges. Gov. Jindal has been a staunch opponent of the lawsuit, using his office to force three of the lawsuit’s major proponents off the levee board. Now some state lawmakers are taking aim at the levee authority, including state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, who is currently drafting legislation against the levee board. Some legislators say proposed legislation will ban contingency-fee arrangements between levee boards and trial lawyers. Whatever the outcome, the matter is likely to end up in courts.

30 percent — The average price of childcare in Louisiana as a percent of the average single mother’s budget (Source: Child Care Aware)